Some mice that once were blind can now see, thanks to a breakthrough from researchers at UC Berkley. And humans might not be far behind.
There are two main causes of blindness—retinitis pigmentosa, which is genetic, and macular degeneration, an age-related problem your grandmother might have. Both ailments are related in that the retina's rods and cones, or photoreceptors, die. The mice were genetically engineered so their rods and cones would die just after birth, and they regained sight after they were injected with a chemical called AAQ. Juts how is AAQ able to make cells respond to light yet again? Per Science Daily:
AQ is a photoswitch that binds to protein ion channels on the surface of retinal cells. When switched on by light, AAQ alters the flow of ions through the channels and activates these neurons much the way rods and cones are activated by light.
The researchers could tell that the animals could see again because after they switched the lights on, the little vermin shied away. The most promising part of this news is sight was restored without applying any kind of foreign genes, like stem cells for example. And because of that, the retina isn't changed permanently, making the process less risky. The team is working on a stronger version for people to use. Which means some day your 87-year-old Meemaw might be able to ditch those thick glasses she's so reliant on. [Science Daily via PopSci]
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