The childhood song Three Blind Mice, which recounts the tale of three blind mice getting into trouble with the farmer’s wife may be obsolete in the near future. While researchers continue to work on aids for the blind, a team at UCL has found the answer. Three blind mice, no more!
A recent paper in the journal Natural Biochemistry documents the successful implantation of photoreceptors into the receptors of blind mice, restoring their vision. Thus, blind mice may become history very soon, and the same thing goes for us humans!
HOW DID THEY DO IT?
A team of researchers at UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital, led by Professor Robin Ali, obtained the photoreceptors from a “synthetic retina” grown in a lab dish. They used a Japanese technqiue that mimics the natural process of retinal growth in embryos. Then they injected 200,000 of the cultured cells into living mouse retinas. Miraculously it only took six weeks for the necessary neural connections to form and to communicate visual data to the brain
The next step is to start trials with human cells that will be eventually used in human clinical trials. At this point, we are still years away.
WHAT ABOUT NOW…?
Although there is still a great debate and a lot of regulations around clinical trials involving stem cells, therapies that target retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) are completely legal. The reason for the allowance – RPE trials involved cells that are terminally differentiated, accessible, and form no synaptic connections.
Dr. Schwartz successfully implanted RPE cells derived from embryonic stem cells into the retina. In two distinct cases; one patient suffering from macular degeneration and the other from Stargardt’s, the therapies proved a small success. Both patients reported moderate visual improvement.
A pair of telescopic contact lenses or the Argus II optical implant (for those suffering from retinitis pigmentosa) use technology to aim to circumvent the problem areas. The Argus II implant has been commercially available in Europe since 2011 (for a hefty $100,000) and was approved by the FDA here in the US earlier this year.
Once again technology and medicine have come together to un-write what we have written as an impossible feat. It may only be a few more years until we see the demise of glasses and a cure for the blind. If you want to learn more, check out the original article at singularity hub.