A group of scientists partially restored vision to a blind man in a medical breakthrough that could change the lives of millions of people worldwide who have been living in the darkness.
Researchers in Sorbonne (Paris) and Pittsburgh (United States) gave a blurry vision to a partially blind man after using a new technology called opt genetics.
According to a report published in Nature Medicine, a team of scientists announced that they had restored the vision to the 58-year-old man by building proteins that capture light in one of his eyes.
The research authors said that the procedure is done when light enters the eyeball and is captured by so-called photoreceptor cells. Those cells then send an electrical signal to neighbouring cells, called ganglion cells, which can identify important features, such as movement.
According to the report, the cells send unique signals to the optic nerve, which conducts the information to the brain.
The researchers used gene therapy to convert ganglion cells into new photoreceptor cells, even though they do not capture light naturally.
Scientists have also tapped into proteins derived from algae and other microbes to make any neuron sensitive to light. They chose a genetic optical protein that is only sensitive to amber light and is more accessible to the eye than other colours. They used viruses to deliver amber proteins to the retinal ganglion cells.
The researchers invented a particular device to convert visible information from the outside world into amber recognizable by the ganglion cells. They also made protective glasses that scan the vision thousands of times a second and record any pixels of light changes and send a pulse of amber light from that pixel to the eye.
Finally, they suggested that this strategy might create images in the brain. Our eyes naturally make small movements several times per second. In each move, many pixels may change light levels.
After testing gene therapy and goggles on monkeys, the study authors were ready to try them on people.
They planned to inject the gene-carrying viruses into one eye of blinded volunteers, then wait several months for the ganglion cells to grow into the genetic proteins. Next, they would train the volunteers to use goggles.
One of the volunteers was trained for seven months, wearing goggles at home. One day while walking, he realized that he could see footpath lines. The experiment has proven a promising start in treating blindness. Let’s wait for the next steps.