Saturday 31 January 2015

Algae genes could restore sight in the blind

Richard Alleyne

Published 14/04/2011 | 09:50

Many suffer from vision problems caused by a damaged or malfunctioning retinas. Photo: Getty Images

Blind people may have their sight returned thanks to a light sensitive gene taken from algae, claims scientists.

Researchers believe they may be able to replace damaged cells in the retina with similar ones found in algae.

The technique has worked in mice and now scientists believe they can begin human trials within two years.

"The idea is to develop a treatment for blindness," Alan Horsager, at the University of southern California, told the New Scientist.

Many suffer from vision problems caused by a damaged or malfunctioning retinas.

The retina is the "business end" of the eye, where nerve cells convert light into electrical and chemical signals that are sent to the brain down the optic nerve.

If it is not working then the eye is useless.

Algae need to be sensitive to light so they can seek out sunlight for photosynthesis and it is the cells they use to do this that scientists hope to use to replenish damaged equivalents in the human eye.

It involves injecting the gene into the retina.

Early tests showed that blind mice were able to see light again after treatment and that the effect appears to be permanent.

"It's good on paper, and it is clear they are heading for a clinical trial with the information they are gathering," said Pete Coffey, at University College London.

"The question is how good is it going to be? Just light/dark or are people going to be able to read large texts."

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