Researchers have reversed a form of congenital blindness in living mammals using an innovative technique that could lead to new ways to treat humans.
A team of US scientists have proved that nerve cells performing other tasks in the eye can be converted into light-sensitive “rod cells”. Those cells are able to identify light changes and movement, making them a key player to treat blindness.
So far, the treatments available for blindness only tend to stop or slow sight loss, so being able to actually reverse the process has been announced by experts as a major breakthrough.
“From a practical standpoint, if you’re trying to regenerate the retina to restore a person’s vision, it is counterproductive to injure it first to activate the Müller glia,” said Dr Bo Chen from the Icahn School of Medicine, New York.
“We wanted to see if we could program Müller glia to become rod photoreceptors in a living mouse without having to injure its retina.”
The study published in the journal Nature found that mice being given a specific treatment were able to cause the Müller glia to multiply and to then convert them into the rod cell photoreceptors able to process sight.
Professor Chris Inglehearn, professor of molecular ophthalmology at the University of Leeds told The Independent:
“What these researchers have done is to reprogram whole cells within the retina, cells that previously carried out other functions, and turn them into new light-sensitive photoreceptors, to replace the ones the mice had lost and so restore some of their vision.”
“It will not restore perfect sight, but fear of complete blindness is one of our greatest healthcare fears, and restoration of even limited sight in such patients would mean a great deal to them.”
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