Voltage-gated ion channels are small pores that enable the flow of important chemical ions, such as calcium (Ca2+) and potassium (K+) in and out of cells, under the application of a small voltage. These gates play a vital role in a range of physiological processes and form a key element in the development of new drugs and delivery methods. At the moment, voltage-gated ion channel activity is controlled by thrusting an electrode into a cell excised from a human or animal in order to activate the channel and record electrical activity. This is, however, a thoroughly invasive process and it is a difficult technique to master. This proposal will investigate the use of a laser source to open voltage-gated ion channels in a minimally invasive manner. By shining the laser source - which is effectively a very high electric field - onto the cell, sufficient voltage to activate the ion channel will be provided. We will investigate Ca2+-activated K+ ion channels, but the proposed minimally-intrusive method will have potential application across a wider range of voltage-gated ion channels.
"We have made a number of useful scientific discoveries. Primarily, these focus on the optical parameters required to support self-focusing, and measurements of optical beams in the paraxial and non-paraxial regimes in an optical microscope. These are likely to be very important in the longer-term.
We also developed a method to perform super-resolution microscopy of live red cells that does not require extensive computation or special fluorophores. Beyond the period of the award we have continued to work on this project, and it is now part-funded by industry. This has also sparked collaboration with other UK researchers who are keen to work with us to both develop the technology further and to apply this method to other biomedical specimens. I intend to submit an application to RCUK for further funding to continue this work."