A team of researchers at East China Normal University in Shanghai paved the way for a "new era" in medicine.
They used a smartphone to control the activity of the living cells inside an animal and were able to control blood sugar levels in mice with diabetes with just a tap of a touchscreen. The idea, described in Science Translational Medicine, was based on genetically engineered cells to manufacture drugs that control blood sugar levels, such as insulin, in response to light. This technology is called optogenetics and works based on exposure to specific wavelengths of red light. A set of wirelessly powered LEDs and a smartphone app were then used to control the cells. In order to know how high the blood sugar levels were, they had to take tiny drops of blood to calculate how much drug to release inside the animal. Future goals are to create a fully automated system that detects sugar levels and then releases the right amount of therapeutic chemicals. This idea is not limited to diabetes as cells could be engineered to manufacture a wide range of drugs and provides a glimpse into the future of smart cell-based therapeutics.