NEUROPA: new innovative European project to treat neurodegenerative diseases with laser light

The research group for Monitoring and Modulation of Brain Circuits in Brain Diseases of the Institute of Neurosciences (UBNeuro) led by Dr. Mercè Masana participates in the NEUROPA project. The project is led by a pioneering international consortium in the field of phyto-optogenetics, with experts in photonic engineering, imaging and neurobiologists. Phyto-optogenetics is an innovative technique that combines genetic and optical methods to selectively stimulate brain circuits using light. Specifically, the goal of NEUROPA is to develop new types of photoreceptor proteins called phytochromes that can be activated by a new type of laser that emits infrared light. With this laser we could modulate the neural network in the long term with a compact and non-invasive device.

The project is aimed at improving symptoms in specific brain disorders such as Huntington’s disease or cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s. Current advances in viral bioengineering allow the expression of phytochromes in the brain to be directed through an external and less invasive action. These phytochromes will be expressed in subpopulations of neuronal cells within specific areas of the brain, and can be modulated with the new compact laser depending on the symptoms to be improved. A spectroscopy-based system will also be designed to monitor the activity of the neural network and how it changes when phytochromes are activated from the cerebral bloodstream.

The project has received 3.6 million euros in funding from the European Union through the program dedicated to emerging technologies, Future and Emerging Technology (FET). The consortium of the project, led by the University of Aston, includes the University of Bayreuth (Germany), the University of Oulu (Finland), the University of Barcelona (Spain), Pharmacoidea (Hungary), the Sorbonne University (France) and DLM Consultancy Services Ltd (United Kingdom). The members of the UB research team are international referents in the study of Huntington’s disease and other disorders related to the basal ganglia, with extensive experience in molecular and cell biology, as well as neural networks, optogenetics. and behavioral studies.

The research group led by Dra. Mercè Masana participates in the NEUROPA project validating the use of new types of phyto-optogenetics to improve symptoms in models of neurodegenerative diseases.