Mice which were previously blind have had their sight restored by British scientists working on a technology which puts photo receptors in the eyes of the mice. This is a big step forward in developing a new treatment that is going to be able to allow patients with degenerative eye diseases to recover their sight.
The research is being done by scientists at University College London where cells have been injected into the retinas of mice who are suffering from night-time blindness. The cells were harvested from younger mice that had healthy eyes and the cells worked very well at restoring the site of the older mice.
It took around six weeks before results were seen in the mice and after this time it became clear that around 20 percent of the cells injected into the eyes had created the connections necessary for sight.
The scientists tested the visual ability of the mice by putting them in a water maze. The mice who had had the treatment were capable of seeing visual markers which allowed them to find the exit to the maze, where as those who had not received the treatment were unable to see these markers and took a lot longer time exiting the labyrinth.
Obviously, in humans, it is not going to be practical to take the cells from the eyes of younger people but instead it is hoped that equivalent cells will be able to be developed from embryonic stem cells.
Scientists have highlighted that these cells can already be created, it is just an issue about how they are going to be efficiently transplanted into a human eye for the procedure to be worthwhile. There is also going to have to be a significant amount more animal testing before human trials can commence.