According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “an estimated 253 million people live with vision impairment: 36 million are blind, and 217 million have moderate to severe vision impairment.” Meanwhile, the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, “Approximately 14 million Americans aged 12 years and older have self-reported visual impairment defined as distance visual acuity of 20/50 or worse. Among them, more than 11 million Americans could have improved their vision to 20/40 or better with refractive correction.”
With such staggering statistics, wouldn’t it be great if blindness or vision impairment can be reversed?
Common causes of blindness and vision impairment
There are many causes of blindness and vision impairment, including a person’s genes, lifestyle, and environment. According to WHO, 53% of visual impairment is caused by uncorrected refractive errors, while unoperated cataract accounts for 25%. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy account for 4%, 2%, and 1%, respectively.
On the other hand, blindness is often caused by unoperated cataract at 35%, followed by uncorrected refractive error (21%) and glaucoma (8%). The CDC states that “only half of the estimated 61 million adults in the United States classified as being at high risk for serious vision loss visited an eye doctor in the past 12 months.”
How to reverse blindness
While most will say that reversing blindness is not possible, a revolutionary study from Oxford University proves otherwise. Samantha de Silva and her colleagues explored how most common cases of blindness are caused by the loss of light-sensitive photoreceptor cells that comprise the retina. When these light-sensitive photoreceptor cells die, the ability of a person to see clearly is compromised. Likened to the pixels of a digital camera, the loss of millions of these cells can trigger vision loss, and, eventually, blindness.
Once again using the analogy of a digital camera, even though some of the pixels of the digital camera may be dead, the rest of the camera functions as it is meant to be. The same can be said for the retina; while there may be dead cells, the remaining cells are intact. Unfortunately, not all of these cells are light sensitive, which is what are needed for a person to be able to see.
To mimic this, the researchers modified a virus to introduce a new gene to the remaining cells that are not light sensitive. The gene introduces a light-sensitive protein, melanopsin, to the remaining cells, which became instrumental to allowing test subjects, mice, to see.
The mice were monitored for a year, and they displayed the ability to recognize objects, indicating that they have some vision. This solidifies the finding that the melanopsin introduced to the cells responded to the light and were able to send signals to the brain.
The study shows that optogenetic therapy is a feasible solution to vision loss. The researchers are exploring the parameters of the study to further strengthen it.
In time, the world may just have the solution to vision loss. And it may be just as simple as sticking a needle to introduce a protein to change cells.
Prevent blindness today
Poor vision makes it difficult to read, drive, and cross streets. Going blind completely is a whole different story. If you are suffering from cataracts, macular degeneration, or think that your eye health is on the verge of a decline, Arizona Retinal Specialists can conduct examinations and recommend the necessary treatments to correct the problem. Call us today at 623-474-3937 (EYES).