New hope for blindness sufferers thanks to algae DNA

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Upcoming clinical trials could see the effects of blindness reversed, thanks to developments in the study of algae DNA

A radical neuroscience technique known as Optogenetics will be used on a number of patients who suffer from a condition known as retinitis pigmentosa, which is a degenerative disease that effects the light-sensitive parts of the eye. The technique has previously been used to prove that certain parts of the brain enter a sleep state, even when someone is awake. Lasers were used on mice in a study at MIT and the results were a revelation.

Now, the Scientific Director of the Ligon Research Center of Vision at Wayne State University Michigan, Professor Zhuo-Hua Pan, has developed an experimental procedure which will see elements of photosynthetic algae DNA, which has been genetically modified, injected into the eyes of the participants. The hope is that the cells,which cause light sensitivity in algae, will supplement the deteriorated cells in humans.

According to Cosmos Magazine:

The treatment involves injecting the centre of the eye with virus particles loaded with snippets of DNA, originally isolated from photosynthetic algae and and then genetically tweaked.

The DNA codes for a light-sensitive protein called channelrhodopsin, which the algae use to sense sunlight. But when inserted in nerve cells of animals, researchers discovered 10 years ago, channelrhodopsin prompts the nerves to fire at command – when exposed to blue light.

In this trial, the researchers are targeting the DNA-shuttling virus at a layer of nerve cells in the retina called ganglions, to convert them into light sensors that relay a visual signals to the brain.

To date, there has only been one successful method of restoring sight to those affected by blindness, which is by means of a ‘bionic implant’ known as the Argus II.

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The Argus II was tested on an 80-year-old retiree in Manchester, England, who was suffering from AMD (Age-Related Macular Degeneration). It is unclear whether the Algae DNA testing will have similarly positive results, but we will be the first to let you know when the reports are released.

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