Genetic Protein Technology Helps Blind People See Again

Research published in the May 24 issue of Nature Medicine uses genetic protein technology to allow patients who are completely blind to perceive space and distinguish objects with an eye patch, a major step forward in treating blindness.

The treatment of blindness is an area where medical research has been slow to progress, as there are many causes of blindness, so it is difficult to find a universal approach to help restore vision to blind patients.

This study is the first of its kind to use genetic technology for a class of patients who have lost their sight due to retinal problems. The researchers first modified the retinal cells of a 58-year-old blind patient and then used an adenovirus to pass the modified genetic code into the patient’s retina. The modified retinal cells produced a protein that was particularly sensitive to amber light. This is the first step.

In the second step, the researchers equip the patient with a special eye patch that converts external light into amber light pulses. With the blindfold on, the patient excitedly said, “I can see.

He could perceive the size of the space around him and distinguish objects around him with such clarity that the patient could reach out and touch them with purpose. Basically, except for his inability to distinguish colors and see the details of objects, he had no problem in correctly assessing the extent of the surrounding space and the layout of objects.

José-Alain Sahel, an ophthalmologist at the University of Pittsburgh (USA), who led the study, said, “This is an important milestone.” While this is not quite the same as normal vision, it is a practical advance for patients who have been completely blind for a long time.

The therapy is now in clinical trials. The research team believes the progress is good and that the technology could be available to the market in the near future.