A neuroscientist has made a medical breakthrough by restoring vision to blind mice. The researcher has provided hope to millions of people around the world without sight. The researcher is Doctor Sheila Nirenberg, and her research has enabled the mice to see well enough to track squirrels and distinguish a baby's face. In a bid to grab Sheldon Cooper's heart, Nirenberg envisions a day when blind people will wear Geordi La Forge visors.
The technique the New York-based neuroscientist has come up with is non-surgical and uses high-tech glasses embedded with tiny video camera and a computer chip to restore sight. She believes that the technique could be tested on humans within two years. The special glasses could restore sight to millions of people around the world suffering from blindness due to degenerative eye diseases.
The scientist says that this type of blindness is often caused by diseases that damage certain parts of the retina used by the eye to detect light and the neural pathways that attach to the retina. However, the cells within the retina that communicate with the brain, called ganglion cells, are typically left intact. The technique bypasses those damage cells and sends the encoded visual information directly to the brain.
The breakthrough in the technique came after Nirenberg was able to decipher the code of neural pulses that the mouse brain forms into images. Nirenberg uses a two-path approach that includes a prosthetic device that produces the code plus gene therapy that activates the ganglion cells. She said, "It's just an injection into the eye."
The code needed was placed onto a chip and combined with a mini projector. The chip converts the images into electrical impulses and then the projector transforms those pulses into light that is able stimulate proteins inside the ganglion cells. The information travels up to the brain where the brain recognizes the data as a sharp image. One key factor giving hope that this could be used to treat human blindness is that Nirenberg has worked out the code needed for a monkey retina, which is almost identical to the human retina.
[via NY Daily News]