Photo Credit: Aaron Logan via Wikimedia Commons
The three blind mice could soon have their vision restored thanks to a team of UC Berkeley scientists working with researchers at the University of Munich and University of Washington, in Seattle. That's right, the team recently discovered a chemical that temporarily restores vision in blind mice and it could someday do the same for humans.
The researchers used a chemical known as AAQ that, when injected directly into the eyes of blind mice, acts as a photoswitch, binding to the protein ion channels on the surface of retinal cells. When exposed to light, the chemical changes the flow of ions in the eye, activating neurons that allow the mice to see again. The procedure's effectiveness was confirmed when the mice's pupils contracted as they were exposed to bright light, meaning the brain was receiving the light signals.
Unfortunately, the injection only restores sight temporarily, as the effects were seen to go away after only a few hours. While this may seem like a problem, it could actually be beneficial to the patient. Other blindness therapies, focusing on gene and stem cell work, permanently change the retina. Because the AAQ treatment wears off, patients could choose to change a dosage or stop treatment when a new chemical therapy comes along.
As we speak, the team is already hard at work on different versions of the AAQ compound that could potentially restore vision for days, rather than hours. The ultimate goal is to make this treatment beneficial to human patients, but there is still no word on when, or if, human testing will occur. Let's just hope things move along quickly and some of our fellow uprights get a chance to see again.