Scientists have come up with an extraordinary treatment for blindness that involves injecting 10 billion small flecks of gold into each eyeball.
Experiments on mice showed the new technique effectively restored sight in mice with macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. It will now be tested on humans in a huge clinical trial.
“We are very excited indeed by our findings,” said Daniel Hillier, of the German Primate Center in Göttingen.
“We believe that near-infrared stimulation is an important step towards providing useful vision to blind patients so that they can regain their ability to read or see faces,” said Dr Hillier.
The technique involves implanting billions of gold minuscule ‘nano-bars’ into the retina. These capture near-infrared light rays, absorbing their heat and slowly releasing it into the eye.
The heat makes the damaged photoreceptors vibrate and that movement helps them bind with functional genes delivered to the retina at the same time through a separate injection and sight is restored.
“We want to give hope to blind people with these findings and will further intensify our research activities in this area. We have also demonstrated this method in cultured human retinas [in the lab], so the next step is clinical trials,” said Dr Hillier.
“The good thing is that the core component [the delivery system for the functional genes] is already approved for clinical use. Therefore I expect the human trials to be relatively straightforward,” he said.
Macular degeneration is one of the major reasons for blindness, with nearly 200 million people affected worldwide. Photoreceptors in the retina are responsible for capturing the light. Diseased photoreceptors lose their sensitivity to light, which can lead to vision loss or even complete blindness.