Scientists have made blind mice see clearly again in a breakthrough that offers hope to millions.
The technique, using high-tech spectacles containing a tiny camera rather than surgery, could be tested on people for the first time in just one to two years.
Neuroscientist Sheila Nirenberg, who is honing the technique, says it is hoped the blind will be able to 'see faces, walk through the supermarket and pick out a box of cereal, and recognise their children'.
The first beneficiaries are likely to be sufferers of age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness in the elderly. When we look at something, light falls on cells in the retina and is converted into electrical signals which are sent to the brain for processing into images.
The signals are encoded, with the pattern for a dog being different to that for a cat or a baby.
In age-related macular degeneration, the retinal cells that pick up light die off, leading to less information being passed to the brain and vision deteriorating.
Dr Nirenberg has found a way of sending the encoded information to the brain that bypasses these dead and damaged cells. She has also worked out how to encode the information accurately.
Experiments on mice show the technique to produce near normal vision, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.
Dr Nirenberg, of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, has worked out the coding for monkeys' eyes. The human eye relies on the same code. If the technique is shown to be safe and effective in human trials, it could be in use five to seven years after that.
Dr Nirenberg envisages the blind wearing spectacles embedded with a camera to pick up information in the line of vision and turn it into the code used by the eye.
- Daily Mail