A new neuroscience technique known as Optogenetics, which scientists believe can restore the functionality of dysfunctional retinal photoreceptors (nerve cells that sense light to impart vision) in the eye, is going under its first trials on humans.
Why is it significant?
Because till today, there is no known cure for blindness caused by damage to retinal cells.
How does it work?
The technique is methodologically very similar to how scientists made pest resistant BT cotton, harnessing viruses’ capability of inserting their own genes into the DNA of the cells they infect. First the scientists ‘cut and paste’ the gene for a photo-sensitive protein from an algae into a virus; and then inject the virus into the retinal region. The virus then does what it does – it enters the retinal cells and spills out its own DNA into the host’s nucleus, setting loose the transplanted light sensitivity gene to get involved into the host’s DNA. This could make the non-sensitive retinal cells sensitive to light, though only marginally and probably in monochrome.
The promoters of the trial hope that patients who can only sense light intensity currently would be able to see large objects after this therapy. It is a lot easier said than done, but the outcomes will be tremendous if it succeeds.
What diseases can it potentially benefit?
As for now, all sorts of retinal degenerative conditions seem to be benefiting, including retinitis pigmentosa, on whose patients the trials will be taken.
What are the future possibilities?
Other groups believe that the same technique can be used for treating a wide range of neurological disorders, including autism, parkinsonism and Alzheimer’s disease. There is already a trial in consideration for treating Parkinson’s disease using this technique.
Read more at the source here, on the Business Insider website.