Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Specific cells (shown here in green) in the retinas of blind mice were engineered to express a light-sensitive protein, giving the mice a rudimentary form of vision.

Blind Mice See the Light
Researchers ­engineer sight into a broken visual circuit

Source: “Light-Activated Channels Targeted to O.N. Bipolar Cells Restore Visual Function in Retinal ­Degeneration”
Botond Roska et al.
Nature Neuroscience
11: 667-675

Results: Blind mice that had been genetically engineered to produce a light-sensitive protein in their retinas developed a rudimentary sense of vision. The mice responded to moving patterns, displaying an ability to resolve fine visual details about half as well as normal mice.

Why it matters: People with macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa, two leading causes of blindness in the United States, lose vision when photoreceptor cells degenerate. The new results raise the possibili­ty of a thera­py that would enable their eyes to detect and respond to light even in the absence of photoreceptors, partially restoring sight.

Methods: Researchers inserted a gene for a light-sensitive protein found in algae into the retinas of mice that lacked photoreceptors. Embedded in the membranes of retinal cells that normally relay signals from photoreceptors to the brain, the protein acts as a channel that opens when hit with light. That allows positively charged ions to flood into the cells, triggering a signal that ultimately reaches the brain.

Next steps: The cells engineered to produce the light-­sensitive protein normally turn on in response to light. The researchers would like to apply their approach to cells that shut off in the presence of light, adding another layer of complexity to the restored visual system. But they must first find a way to deliver a second light-­sensitive protein specifically to those cells.

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Credit: Botond Roska, Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research

Tagged: Biomedicine

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me
×

A Place of Inspiration

Understand the technologies that are changing business and driving the new global economy.

September 23-25, 2014
Register »