The loss of vision can be a devastating condition, and there are few options for those affected. According to the article “With single gene insertion, blind mice regain sight,” over 170 million people around the globe face macular degeneration, and the only viable treatment option is an electronic implant. A team at the University of California Berkeley, however, has sought to advance the technology and procedures available to treat vision loss. After having tried for over a decade to devise an effective treatment, the researchers found that inactive viruses could be used as vessels to insert useful genes. Specifically in mice, insertion of opsins, or photosensitive protein-coupled receptors, into living tissue layers of the eye led to the recovery of a limited, but useful amount of vision. Although the result is not yet perfect, trials with the mice showed that they could distinguish parallel from horizontal lines, navigate through a maze just as easily as mice without vision impairments. In addition, the researchers were surprised to find that their sensitivity to light was developed enough to be able to recognize the light from an Ipad rather than brighter LEDs used in other less successful trials.
Through the hope gained through this trial, the team at UC Berkeley have set their sights on helping people regain color vision, and also gaining approval to test their new method with opsins in humans in the coming years. Other studies are concurrently being done to understand which genes are specifically responsible for the loss of vision in children, and by gaining a better grasp of this there can potentially be further advances in gene therapy to mitigate this issue.