In a revolutionary new study, researchers have been able to reverse blindness in mice, completely restoring eye sight. Using a treatment involving injections of light-sensing cells into the mice’s eye, researchers were effectively able to cure their blindness, pointing towards the very same treatment in humans.
Researchers from the University of Oxford took mice that suffered from a complete lack of light-sensing photoreceptor cells in their retinas, making it impossible for them to distinguish between light and dark, effectively making them blind. However, with injections of light-sensing cells into the eyes of the blind mice, researchers were able to restore the light-sensing photoreceptor cells and give back vision to the mice. The Oxford researchers said that the treatment was effective for night blindness and that it could potentially also be used in the future to restore similar degenerative diseases of the human eye, such as retinitis pigmentosa.
In the study, which has been published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers injected the mice with “precursor” cells, which after two weeks, began to form into a retina. The researchers explained that the method employed in the present study was, unlike previous tests with partial restoration, able to restore the mice’s entire vision, explaining it as, "restoring a whole computer screen rather than repairing individual pixels."
Speaking about the research, lead researcher Prof. Robert MacLaren said, "We have recreated the whole structure, basically it's the first proof that you can take a completely blind mouse, put the cells in and reconstruct the entire light-sensitive layer."
Once the mice were injected with the light sensitive cells, and the new retina allowed to form, they were then tested to see whether the retina and their vision had been restored. This was done by observing whether they fled from bright areas, whether their pupils constricted when under light and if brain activity was noted when light was shone on their eyes.
Commenting on the study, Prof. Pete Coffee of the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London said, "This is probably what you would need to do to restore sight in a patient that has lost their vision," adding that the findings of the study were important as they dealt with the "most clinically relevant and severe case" of blindness. Prof. Coffee also added that while the study was promising, further research, as to what exactly the restored eye could see, not just light sensitivity, was important.