Martin Fussenegger, Ph.D.

AIMBE College of Fellows Class of 2008
For pioneering contributions to cell culture engineering and molecular methods for diagnosis and therapy of disease at the genetic level.

Novel Pain Management Approach Uses Spearmint to Trigger Pain Relief

Via MD Magazine | February 15, 2018

Researchers have developed a novel strategy that could usher in a new era of pain management and combat the persistent problem of painkiller addiction.

A new study highlighted a bioengineering-based method that involves engineering cells that can target pain receptors and then tie those cells to an aroma-based triggering mechanism. “Our proof-of-principle findings indicate that therapies based on engineered cells can achieve robust, tunable and on-demand analgesia for the long-term management of chronic pain,” the study authors wrote.

The strategy works in a number of steps. First, researchers created “microencapsulated human designer cells” that produce Huwentoxin-IV, a potent analgesic peptide that selectively shuts down a pain-triggering sodium channel called Nav1.7. Next, they rewired an olfactory receptor, OR1A1, so that it induced the expression of a variant of Huwentoxin-IV. The researchers chose an olfactory receptor that is responsive to R-carvone, a chemical that smells like spearmint.

Thus, the researchers created a mechanism in which the smell of spearmint leads to the production of Huwentoxin-IV, which in turn eliminates pain. The so-called “AromaCells” were tested in mouse models, and the results suggested the mice achieved significant and lasting pain relief with exposed to spearmint.

Martin Fussenegger, PhD, the lead author and a professor in the Department of Biosystems Science and Bioengineering at ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich), said the system circumvents one of the key problems associated with pain management… Continue reading.


Controlling Genes With Your Thoughts

Via | November 11, 2014

Researchers led by ETH Zurich professor Martin Fussenegger have constructed the first gene network that can be controlled by our thoughts. The inspiration for this development was a game that picks up brainwaves in order to guide a ball through an obstacle course.

It sounds like something from the scene in Star Wars where Master Yoda instructs the young Luke Skywalker to use the force to release his stricken X-Wing from the swamp: Marc Folcher and other researchers from the group led by Martin Fussenegger, Professor of Biotechnology and Bioengineering at the Department of Biosystems (D-BSSE) in Basel, have developed a novel gene regulation method that enables thought-specific brainwaves to control the conversion of genes into proteins – called gene expression in technical terms.
"For the first time, we have been able to tap into human brainwaves, transfer them wirelessly to a gene network and regulate the expression of a gene depending on the type of thought. Being able to control gene expression via the power of thought is a dream that we’ve been chasing for over a decade," says Fussenegger.