Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley have been working with the University of Munich and University of Washington in Seattle to develop a chemical that could one day help people suffering from degenerative blindness. Using mice as their subjects, the team of researchers were able to discover a chemical that can reportedly restore vision temporarily. The chemical is called AAQ and it works by making the blind cells in the retina sensitive to light. AAQ is based on a photoswitch that binds to protein ion channels on the surface of retinal cells.
When switched on by light, AAQ alters the flow of ions through the channels and activates the neurons. The researchers said that unlike other methods for restoring sight, such as gene or stem cell therapies, AAQ appears to be a safer alternative because the chemical will wear off after a certain period of time. The blind mice used in the series of tests conducted were suffering from problems that rendered their rods and cones useless after being born.
Researchers claimed that after injecting AAQ into the eyes, the mice reportedly became sensitive to light, with their pupils contracted in bright light. “The photoswitch approach offers real hope to patients with retinal degeneration. We still need to show that these compounds are safe and will work with people the way they work in mice, but these results demonstrate that this class of compound restores light sensitivity to retinas blind from genetic disease,” said lead researcher Richard Kramer.