Envisioning a World Without Blindness

Not too long ago The New York Times reported a “burst of recent research aimed” at helping the blind see. Their article, rife with blurbs about ingenious procedures—like the first osteo-odonto-keratoprosthesis in the United States, an operation in which a patient’s extracted tooth helps fashion a replacement cornea—largely focused on the growing success of artificial retinas, which involve electrodes implanted in the eye and tiny cameras mounted on glasses.

But there’s even more exciting and related research. The September 19th International Symposium on Artificial Vision welcomed many optimistic manufacturers of retinal implants, some expecting official approval for their devices by 2011, according to one article. Many attending scientists were from Germany, where there’s been considerable progress in the field of artificial vision, but The Boston Retinal Implant Project also presented their work—check out this spiffy interactive model of their implant.

These largely technological advances complement progress of a more organic nature. First there’s the celebrated study published in Nature, detailing how University of Washington researchers used gene therapy to enhance color vision in color-blind squirrel monkeys. Less reported was a study in the current issue of PLoS Biology describing how a SUNY Upstate Medical University team used pluripotent cells to grow entirely new and functioning eyes in blind tadpoles. Applying such biological strategies to humans will require much more research, but considered together these recent and varied developments are genuine cause for hope.

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