In a first, blind man’s vision restored with the help of gene therapy

In an experiment conducted by scientists in Europe and the US, a blind man is now able to see objects. The scientists by using gene therapy techniques introduced a gene from algae into the man’s retina in a bid to improve his vision.

Vision gained by the person is modest, while colors, discern faces and letters are unseen by the person. If similar treatment is offered to more people it will offer a better advantage of reviving vision as compared to vision treatment technologies which are often used. 

Results of the research are seen as a big step towards achieving greater heights in treating blind people. Neuroscientists are considering the results of the experiment as a breakthrough. This is the first paper published using a new generation of technology called optogenetics.

Optogenetics

The technology uses light to control the neurons in the brain. An added gene for a light-sensitive protein known as opsin that mainly comes from algae and bacteria and later shines a light on the cell to trigger the opsin in the gene to change space. Though the gene neuron activity can switch between on and off. 

Developed two decades ago, this technology is mostly used as a tool to study brain circuitry in animals. Researchers hope that the same technology can one day help in solving diseases such as blindness.

“The eye is the simplest place” to start because it is small and easy to access, study co-leader Botond Roska, a physician-scientist at the University of Basel, said at a press conference last week.

Blind Man’s vision Study

Patients who participated in the study have a disease called retinitis pigmentosa which leads to loss of retinal photoreceptor cells, these cells use human opsins to turn light into electrical signals.

However, their eyes still have the ganglion cells that route the signals to the brain neuron. This means if microbial opsin is given to a patient’s cells, then this might help them gain vision.

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