The journal nature reports that scientists from Rockefeller University have used nanoparticles and radio waves to remotely activate genes in animals. Molecular geneticist Jeffrey Friedman remarks that while the technology could result in better tools for manipulating cells noninvasively, it could eventually be used in clinical applications.
Friedman and his colleagues coated iron oxide nanoparticles with antibodies that bind to a modified version of the temperature-sensitive ion channel TRPV1. Then, they injected these particles into tumors grown under the skins of mice and heated the particles with low-frequency radio waves. The nanoparticles heated the ion channel to its activation temperature of 42°C, allowing calcium to flow into cells. This step triggered secondary signals that switched on an engineered calcium-sensitive gene that produces insulin. Before long the mice's insulin levels increased and their blood sugar levels fell.
While the team says that there are simpler methods for controlling diabetes, the system could potentially be engineered to produce proteins to treat other conditions.