In groundbreaking experiments conducted by British scientists, transplanting light-sensitive photoreceptors into the eyes of visually impaired mice has helped them see again. The researchers hope that a similar procedure can be applied to humans to restore sight to those with degenerative eye diseases.
Robin Ali is Professor of Molecular Genetics at University College London:
“We’ve previously shown that we could transplant photoreceptor cells and they would integrate within the retina, and now we’re able to show that these integrated photoreceptor cells make functional connections, not only within the retina, but that they make appropriate connections to the visual centers in the brain and as a result of this we can improve vision.”
The findings not only show that the brain can rebuild connections based on newly built cells in the eyes, but that it might be possible to extend the principle to other brain functions, says Professor Ali:
“What we’ve shown is that we can transplant nerves and have them make appropriate connections and that may have some far-reaching implications, that it might be possible eventually, it’s going to be much more complicated, but it might be possible to transplant other types of nerves and perhaps repair other parts of the brain.”
Human clinical trials are still at least five years away, says Professor Ali, but the implications of their success will be revolutionary for the vision-impaired.