Innovation Forum Optogenetics lays the foundation for a research agenda

Dr. Ing. Berend Lindner, State Secretary in the Lower Saxony Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labor, Transport and Digitalisation, opened the Innovation Forum. (Photo: LZH)

Eight questions, eight laps: The participants got to know each other better in speed meetings. (Photo: LZH)

Innovations arise where business and science break the boundaries of institutions and industries and think creatively. (Photo: LZH)

Clusters of heart muscle cells that are stimulated to contract by optical stimulation. (Photo: LZH)

Interested parties reach the initiators of the forum via Professor Alexander Heisterkamp and Dr. med. Dag Heinemann.

Biological functions can be controlled with light. Using this mechanism, the participants of the Innovation Forum on Optogenetics - Technologies and Potentials (INOTEP), which took place in Hanover on November 28th and 29th, 2017, want to make far-reaching progress in medicine and other disciplines. Researchers are well on the way to sustainably reactivate damaged visual nerves using optogenetics. Muscles, too, can be specifically stimulated with optical impulses today. Which other future applications, products and services are conceivable? Examples of concrete approaches were presented by speakers from all over Germany, giving the 70 participants impulses for the generation of completely new ideas and approaches.

"Lower Saxony already has outstanding research results in optogenetics. For the state government, this research area has high priority, "stated Dr. Berend Lindner, State Secretary in the Lower Saxony Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labor, Transport and Digitalization. Barbara Reddig from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, DLR) thanked the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) as the initiator of the forum: "This is knowledge transfer at the highest level, which strengthens the profile of the Hannover Region."

The still young research field of optogenetics offers numerous promising treatment approaches on the basis of optics and genetics. In addition to the technical exchange, the Innovation Forum acted as a platform for establishing a sustainable technology alliance, which also includes actors from biology, medicine and related disciplines.

Seeing again thanks to optogenetics
Nationwide, about 40,000 people are affected by retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative retinal disease that irreversibly destroys photoreceptors in the eye. Combined with special vision aids, optogenetics could help in the future: Adeno-associative viruses (AAV) injected under the retina reactivate human photoreceptors, allowing light-induced currents to be restored. If the patient carries a biomimetic vision aid, it amplifies the light so that the signals are transmitted to the brain via the retina.

Relieve tremor in Parkinson's disease
In conjunction with imaging techniques, it is even possible to use optogenetics to create and visualize a functional mapping of neural networks. Nervous systems can be further explored. In the future, first insights into deep brain stimulation with optogenetic methods could help relieve the tremor in Parkinson's patients.

The optogenetic muscle pump
Cardiac or laryngeal pacemakers that stimulate with electrical impulses are stressful for the patients, among other things because of the high signal strength and the possible tissue damage. In contrast, light pulses are non-invasive and selectively usable. If they encounter light-sensitive proteins, they can trigger muscle contractions.

Artificial muscle tissue can be grown in the laboratory today. Soon, the researchers want to implant this in the human heart, to replace the damaged tissue after an infarction. The breeding of complete organs is not yet in sight, but parts of organs. The contraction and frequency of such artificial muscles can be controlled by injecting channelrhodopsins and using optical pulses.

Challenges for industry and science
"If these therapeutic approaches are to be translated into clinical applications, not only new medical devices are needed, but also further research," explains forum spokesman Professor Alexander Heisterkamp, ​​member of the Scientific Directorate of the LZH. These include novel implantable light sources that can adequately illuminate large tissue areas. It also needs to be clarified if immune reactions are taking place, and how to these and other side effects can be prevented. Further light-sensitive proteins and their functions have to be explored and the contraction forces of artificial muscle tissue increased. In addition, researchers want to find out how specific cells in the brain can be targeted.

Design Thinking: Developing innovations from the customer's point of view
In addition to the lectures, the organizers of the LZH inspired the participants with new methods of innovation finding in workshops and speed meetings. For example, the idea for a startup was born, whose business model is based on self-regulating optogenetic insulin production.

The innovation forum Optogenetik was accompanied by an industrial exhibition. At, participants and other interested parties can find out about the results of the event and network with each other.

The Innovation Forum Optogenetics was supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within the Innovation Forum Mittelstand. The aim of the program is to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) develop trendsetting products and services.

For the press release there are five illustrations and a video of the state capital Hannover on the topic of optogenetics.

Press release for download: 


Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH)

As an independent, non-profit research institute, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) stands for innovative research, development and consulting. The LZH is supported by the Lower Saxony Ministry for Economics, Labour and Transport and is dedicated to the selfless promotion of applied research in the field of photonics and laser technology. Founded in 1986, over 170 employees are now working for the LZH.

The focus of the LZH lies on the fields of optical components and systems, optical production technologies, and biomedical photonics. Interdisciplinary cooperation between natural scientists and mechanical engineers makes innovative approaches to challenges from the most different areas possible: from the development of components for specific laser systems to process developments for the most diverse laser applications, for example for medical technology or lightweight construction in the automotive sector. Nineteen spin off companies have emerged from the LZH up to now. Thus, the LZH has created a strong transfer between fundamental science, application oriented research, and industry.