A team of Chinese researchers have restored the eyesight of blind mice by replacing their deteriorated photoreceptors with nano-wires made of gold and titanium. This method partially restored their sight, and paves the way to treating various eye diseases.
Restoring eyesight to those with poor eyesight or suffering from eye diseases has been a goal of the medical and scientific community for years. Last year saw several developments that brought us closer to to this goal, from reversing retinal degeneration to creating bionic eyes to even an FDA-approved form of gene therapy. The latest research attempt takes a metallic approach: researchers from Fudan University and the University of Science and Technology of China tried their hand at curing blindness using gold and titanium.
The team’s research, published in the journal Nature Communications, show this method can successfully restore eyesight in mice. Specifically, the scientists replaced the mice’s deteriorated photoreceptors — sensory structures in eyes that respond to light — with artificial photoreceptors, made using titanium dioxide and gold nano-wires.
To test their artificial receptors, the team first genetically engineered the mice to encourage the degradation of their natural receptors. Using four to five mice at a time, the researchers implanted the metallic receptors and watched as their subjects began responding to green, blue, and ultraviolet light. Their pupils also began to dilate, confirming the new photoreceptors were working and that the mice were responsive to light. The photoreceptors were left in for eight weeks, during which none of the mice showed signs of negative side effects or injury.
That being said, it was difficult to determine what the mice were seeing, and how clear their vision was. Furthermore, the replacement photoreceptors could not restore full color vision. While this probably wouldn’t be a huge concern for some people suffering from blindness, it’s still a sign that the team has more work to do.
However, their work leaves open the possibility for further development, and a technique that could potentially address many medical issues. This method could used as a form of treatment for retinal degenerative diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and macular degeneration. According to the National Eye Institute, roughly 1 in 4,000 people worldwide are affected by RP, while many over the age of 60 are at risk of developing macular degeneration; their chances are doubled if they smoke regularly.
However, the future is already looking clearer. With new developments coming in regularly, it seems we’re well on our way to returning eyesight to the millions of people who wish to see the world again.