Blind mice able to see the light in experiments

Researchers who injected a new chemical into the eyes of blind mice made the mice sensitive to light, a finding that could hold promise for people with disease that cause blindness.

Russell Van Gelder, a practicing ophthalmologist and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology, is part of a team of scientists who conducted the experiments. The mice, blind at birth because of a genetic mutation, experienced pupil contractions just like mice that can see. And researchers are working with a new, improved version of the chemical, called AAQ, that is activating neurons for days rather than hours.

The research holds promise for people with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disease that is the most common inherited form of blindness, as well as age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of acquired blindness in the developed world.

Although the research is exciting, Van Gelder stresses that more studies must be conducted and hurdles overcome before the FDA could approve a clinical trial with human beings. The hope is that researchers could either develop a time-release version of the chemical so that vision could be restored over a period of weeks, or surgically implant a tiny chemical dispenser directly into the eye.

The researchers are currently seeking funding from the National Eye Institute and from private support to continue their studies.