Earlier this week, a team of researchers, ETH Zurich, made headlines after developing the first gene network controlled by brainwaves.


Led by a professor of biotechnology and bioengineering, Martin Fussenegger, the researchers developed a system which uses an implant to interpret thoughts and turn them into electricity, which then lights up an integrated LED lamp. The light in turn illuminates genetically modified cells, triggering their creation of a desired protein.


This is yet another example of how researchers and scientists seek to apply major advancements we’ve made in the field of technology to the development of innovative methods to combat medical concerns or transform how we use our own bodies.


The impressive nature of this breakthrough is unquestionable. Nothing like this has ever been accomplished, and as such, it speaks volumes about how far we have come in our efforts to utilize technology to improve the human condition. In the words of Fussenegger:


“For the first time, we have been able to tap into human brainwaves, transfer them wirelessly to a gene network and regulate the expression of a gene depending on the type of thought. Being able to control gene expression via the power of thought is a dream that we’ve been chasing for over a decade.”


Fussenegger goes on to say that a development like this has been a dream for over a decade, another point which highlights the remarkability of this technology coming to fruition and what the development says about modern day technology.


This diagram demonstrates the process by which thought-controlled gene expression becomes possible (ethz.ch)

This diagram demonstrates the process of thought-controlled gene expression (ethz.ch)

Even more impressive than the actual network, its representation of the consistent progression of technology, and its use in medicine is the effect that a thought-controlled gene network can have on medicine moving forward. The researchers have stated that one of the greatest aims in developing the gene network is to ultimately have it serve as an effective tool in combating neurological diseases, including conditions such as chronic headaches and epilepsy. The possibility to do so stems from the network’s ability to detect brainwaves which may signify such conditions early on, after which it can then trigger the production of specific proteins necessary to combat them quickly and from the source.


Naturally, as with any new development which ventures even further into the world of technology than those which have come before it, there are sure to be questions and concerns. This fact becomes increasingly true in the case of a development like the thought-controlled gene network, because the technology being introduced is so closely linked to the mind and the potential of any negative effects can ultimately be detrimental to health and the human neurological system.


However, we have seen time and time again the value that technology can play in enhancing medicine and improving our health. It is a fact evident through the use of external technologies like heart rate monitors or x-ray scanners, as well as the use of internal devices more closely related to the thought-controlled gene network implant, such as pacemakers.


The simple reality is that there will always be a risk associated with any medical procedure or treatment, be it linked to technology or not. The question comes down to whether the potential benefits of said procedure or treatment would essentially outweigh those potential risks.


Ultimately, the medical possibilities that a gene network like this could give rise to, and the simplicity with which it can approach major health concerns, make the technology an incredible tool which possesses the promise of transforming the field of medicine, specifically as it pertains to neurology.


Furthermore, as technology and medicine continue to become increasingly interconnected, it follows that safety will continue to become less and less of a concern as our mastery of the two continues to develop and their combined application to our lives becomes the norm.


What are your thoughts on the thought-controlled gene network? How do you feel about the use of this kind of technology on things like the human neurological system? Share your thoughts below or tweet me @tamarahoumi