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Study Describes Approach Using Electrical Current to Activate Gene Expression

In a proof-of-principle study, researchers from ETH Zurich have used electrical current to activate gene expression in a mouse model. This electrogenetic interface, they say, could enable wearable electronic devices to direct gene-based therapies. In Nature Metabolism, the researchers describe their electrogenetic interface, which they call direct current-actuated regulation technology, or DART. DART is powered by direct current from batteries and, with that, generates reactive oxygen species at low, non-cytotoxic levels that activate KEAP1/NRF2, which, in turn, translocate to the nucleus and activate the expression of a gene of interest under a synthetic promoter. After testing in human cells, the researchers applied this approach to a mouse model of type 1 diabetes using acupuncture needles as electrodes to deliver 4.5 volts for 10 seconds daily to induce insulin production and normal glucose levels. "We believe simple electrogenetic interfaces such as DART that functionally interconnect analog biological systems with digital electronic devices hold great promise for a variety of future gene- and cell-based therapies, including closed-loop genetic interventions, real-time dosing and global telemetric monitoring by medical staff or algorithms," the researchers write.