Algae genes could restore sight in blind

April 14th, 2011 - 4:40 pm ICT by IANS  

London, April 14 (IANS) Blind people may regain their sight thanks to a light sensitive gene taken from algae.

Chemists believe they may be able to replace damaged cells in the retina with similar ones found in algae.

The technique has worked in mice and now scientists believe they can begin human trials within two years.

“The idea is to develop a treatment for blindness,” Alan Horsager at the University of Southern California, the Telegraph reports.

Algae are non-parasitic plants without roots, stems or leaves. They contain chlorophyll and vary in size from microscopic forms to massive seaweeds, living in fresh or salt water or moist places. Some serve as food source.

More than a million people in Britain suffer from vision problems caused by a damaged or malfunctioning retinas.

The retina is the “business end” of the eye, where nerve cells convert light into electrical and chemical signals that are sent to the brain down the optic nerve.

Algae need to be sensitive to light so they can seek out sunlight for photosynthesis and it is the cells they use to do this that scientists hope to use to replenish damaged equivalents in the human eye.

It involves injecting the gene into the retina. Early tests showed that blind mice were able to see light again after treatment and that the effect appears to be permanent.

“It’s good on paper, and it is clear they are heading for a clinical trial with the information they are gathering,” said Pete Coffey, at University College London.

“The question is how good is it going to be? Just light/dark or are people going to be able to read large texts.”

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