Swiss scientists restore sight successfully to blind mice. Using a method of introducing engineered light-sensing proteins into their eyes via a process known as optogenetics.
Experts will use this scientific method used in humans in the future. As a new way to permanently reverse the effects of acquired blindness.
Vision to our brain is the response of specialized cells in the eyes, known as retinal cells, to light stimuli. In those who were not born blind but rather acquired blindness over their lifetime, these retinal cells no longer function correctly because their light-sensing proteins are damaged. In the study, currently published in PLOS Biology, a team of researchers from the University of Berne in Switzerland attempted to replace the non-functioning cell parts with their own lab-engineered proteins, which they named Opto-mGluR6.
What sets Opto-mGluR6 apart from light-sensitive proteins occurring naturally in the eye is that these are particularly resilient to the effects of light, according to the press release.
While Opto-mGluR6 is not the first lab-engineered light-sensitive protein. It differs from past models because it does not require a potentially damaging amount of light.
“The major improvement of the new approach is that patients will be able to see under normal daylight. This would be without the need for light intensifiers or image converter goggles,” said Dr. Sonja Kleinlogel, one of the study authors, in the press release.
Along with working under normal light stimuli, this novel protein also differs from past models because it is likely to be “invisible” to the host’s immune system, iflscience reported. This invisibility is advantageous because it means that the host’s body will likely not recognize the protein.
The team introduced the engineered proteins into the eyes of blind mice using a modified virus.
This method ensured that the protein could go directly to the surviving vision cells located deep within the eye. Opto-mGluR6 then replaced the no longer functioning photoreceptors and, in turn, restored the animals’ vision.
Scientists restore sight and the results are promising and the team hopes to reproduce the effects in human subjects.
“The new therapy can potentially restore sight in patients suffering from any kind of photoreceptor degeneration,” Kleinlogel said. “For example, also those suffering from severe forms of age-related macular degeneration, a very common disease that affects to some degree about one in every 10 people over the age of 65.”