Biochemist Peter Kim and bioengineer Scott Delp have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
Delp was honored for his computer simulations of human movement and their applications to the treatment of clinical movement pathologies. Delp and his team have developed open-source software called OpenSim that allows scientists to create and analyze simulations of movement.
Delp recently launched the National Center for Mobility Data Integration to Insight, known as the Mobilize Center, which is a National Institutes of Health center of excellence for big data research.
The center makes use of the vast data available on movement in healthy people and in those with movement disorders and data generated through the proliferating wearable devices and phone apps that track movement, behaviors and health.
The mice in Scott Delp’s lab, unlike their human counterparts, can get pain relief from the glow of a yellow light.
Right now these mice are helping scientists to study pain – how and why it occurs and why some people feel it so intensely without any obvious injury. But Delp, a professor of bioengineering and mechanical engineering, hopes one day the work he does with these mice can also help people who are in chronic, debilitating pain.
“This is an entirely new approach to study a huge public health issue,” Delp said. “It’s a completely new tool that is now available to neuroscientists everywhere.” He is the senior author of a research paper published Feb. 16 in Nature Biotechnology.
A SWITCH FOR PAIN
The mice are modified with gene therapy to have pain-sensing nerves that can be controlled by light. One color of light makes the mice more sensitive to pain. Another reduces pain. The scientists shone a light on the paws of mice through the Plexiglas bottom of the cage.
Graduate students Shrivats Iyer and Kate Montgomery, who led the study, say it opens the door to future experiments to understand the nature of pain and also touch and other sensations that are part of our daily lives but little understood.
“The fact that we can give a mouse an injection and two weeks later shine a light on its paw to change the way it senses pain is very powerful,” Iyer said.
For example, increasing or decreasing the sensation of pain in these mice could help scientists understand why pain seems to continue in people after an injury has healed. Does persistent pain change those nerves in some way? If so, how can they be changed back to a state where, in the absence of an injury, they stop sending searing messages of pain to the brain?