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License agreement: Photoswitch Biosciences develops drug discovery technology using optogenetics

Light-sensitive proteins discovered by Max Planck scientists are changing the way scientists study how new drug candidates affect critical properties of heart and nerve cells. Researchers can incorporate light-sensitive channelrhodopsin proteins into model cells grown in miniature test tube arrays. Using an instrument developed by Photoswitch Biosciences Incorporated, these light-sensitive ion channels can then be used to control the function of other ion channels of interest. Monitoring tiny electrical changes in the cells allows researchers to screen chemical libraries for new drug candidates or to evaluate the safety of new drugs for use in humans.

Figure: Light-stimulated beating of heart muscle cells in vitro. Light flashes (blue bars) stimulate cardiac cell beating and electrical activity, which can be monitored with a voltage-sensitive dye.
© Photoswitch Biosciences Incorporated

Channelrhodopsins, first isolated by Max Planck researchers from the green algae Chlamydomonas reiinhardii in 2002, have been successfully used both in vitro and in vivo to control and study a variety of critical bioelectrical systems. Now the US company, Photoswitch Biosciences Incorporated, is developing a complete assay system specifically designed to leverage the advantages of channelrhodopsin-based optical control in drug screening and safety pharmacology studies. Genetically-engineered cell lines or stem cell derived models combined with voltage sensitive dyes and a first in class microplate reader allow unprecedented throughput and economy in assaying models of nerve and heart cell function.

The new instrumentation platform was developed partly on the basis of a non-exclusive license agreement with Max Planck Innovation, the technology transfer organization of the Max Planck Society, for the use of biological photoreceptors for the direct control of light activated ion channels.

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