A team of researchers, led by a Kashmiri Scientist working at Jamia Millia Islamia New Delhi has developed an optogenetic tool that will pave the way for “unprecedented ease to understand human diseases and to find innovative treatment solutions”.
Optogenetics is a branch of science which deals with the use of a combination of optical systems such as light and genetic engineering to control electrical and chemical activities in the brain.
Dr Tanveer Ahmad, a Srinagar resident, who did his postdoctoral training at National Institutes of Health (NIH), USA has been researching extensively on this branch of innovative technologies.
He is currently working at Jamia Millia Islamia’s Multidisciplinary Centre for Advanced Research and Studies (MCARS) as Assistant Professor and has led the research on an optogenetic tool that has the potential to be used to understand neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, depression and schizophrenia.
These tools have generated great interest across the academia and medical sciences, for their potential to help in understanding the intricate chemical changes associated with neuropsychiatric diseases including depression. A team with scientists from India and NIH USA have developed a new optogenetic reporter to study brain disorders.
An official handout about the research said that this innovative tool utilises a unique combination of conjugating a light-sensitive domain of a phototropic receptors known as Light-oxygen-voltage sensing domains and a protein called neuregulin3 (NRG3).
The study has been published in “Journal of Cell Biology”, a highly reputed peer-reviewed scientific journal by The Rockefeller University, USA. Besides Dr Tanveer Ahmad, Rituparna Chaudhuri and Nisha Chaudhary are the other contributing authors in this study from India.
The team from NIH includes Dr Andres Buonanno, who is the senior author and Dr Detlef Vullhorst, Dr Carlos Guardia, Dr Irina Karavanova, and Dr Juan Bonifacinoas are other co-authors, the official handout reads.
“Earlier, genetic screening and molecular methods developed by Dr Ahmad and Dr Vullhorst who is one of the authors in the study have shown NRG3 as an important protein implicated in psychiatric diseases,” it states.
Dr Ahmed, while speaking to Greater Kashmir said that there has been extensive research of six years, partly at NIH and partly at Jamia Millia Islamia, leading to this ‘great breakthrough’.
“Further, diseases like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and depression have genetic polymorphisms in NRG3 due to which it is considered as a susceptible gene for these diseases. Using this innovative tool, the researchers discovered how brain cells communicate to send the signal from one compartment to the other, which usually get impaired during neuropsychiatric conditions,” he said.
Talking about the application of the research, Dr Ahmad said, “The unique optogenetic tool will unravel previously unknown details about brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, depression and schizophrenia.”
He said that a better and deeper understanding of the neuro-chemical and genetic processes related to these disorders will help in the development of targeted therapies, in particular viral- and mRNA-based methods, which are specific to a particular target molecule in the cells.
Dr Ahmad further said that this optogenetic tool can be applied to address other biological questions like memory formation, and for the development of inducible light-activated therapies for the treatment of cancer and neurodegeneration.
A statement from Jamia Millia Islamia has said that leveraging the potential of phototropic receptors known as light-oxygen-voltage sensing domains derived from the plant avena sativa (used to derive the common cereal oats, and abbreviated as AsLOV2) the researchers generated innovative chimeric molecular designs by conjugating a light-sensitive domain of LOV2 with a protein called neuregulin3 (NRG3).
This is one of the many innovative gene based technologies that Dr Ahmed has been working on. In the recent past, a team of which he was a member has developed a Saliva Based test for detection of COVID19. “This technology is in the process of being put to use and we have also modified it to help in saliva based detection of Drug-resistant Tuberculosis, and some cancers,” he said.
The Director of MCARS Professor Mohd Zulfequar, has said that the “futuristic optogenetic techniques” will provide “unprecedented ease to understand human diseases and to find innovative treatment solutions”.
About the Researcher
Dr Tanveer Ahmed is a resident of Srinagar who wanted to be a researcher right from the time he finished his school. “I did not want to become a doctor like was expected of a student who was exceptionally good in sciences. I joined Amar Singh College for BSc right after Class 12,” he said.
Dr Ahmed said he was inclined towards research and later did his masters from University of Kashmir. After qualifying a CSIR exam, he joined Institute of Genomics and Integrated Biology.
“I was working with Dr Anurag Aggarwal as his first PhD scholar. Together, we worked on a number of projects on Genetic Engineering of Stem Cells,” he said.
Since then, Dr Ahmed has been active in finding treatments to various lung diseases and conditions using stem cell engineering. He has been a Research Associate at Institute of Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine Bangalore, received Post Doctoral Fellowship from University of Rochester New York, and Postdoctoral fellow at NIH, USA. He has published over 30 papers in various journals. “I have received funding of over 10 crore in the past few years,” he said.
“My work and the research that I have contributed to has been an honour and great satisfaction. I had always wanted to do what I am doing,” he said. He wished that institutes and society in Kashmir promoted interest in fields that are not as ‘mainstream’.
“Please dedicate time to your interests and excel in them. Explore and find avenues. There is a lot to do, a lot to contribute to and you can be part of this advancement of the human race,” he said as a message to the youth in Kashmir.
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