Doctors used a variety of drugs to increase the man’s light-emitting molecule. The gene he added, called chrimson, is derived from a single type of algae that can detect sunlight and move around.
The idea of enhancing the gene, says Roska, is designed to make eye cells called antibodies to respond to light, sending signals to the brain.
The technique, sponsored by the French company GenSight Biologics, requires patients to wear electronic screens that reflect the diversity of the environment and to visualize the image strongly using its bright orange-colored form that triggers the color molecule.
According to José-Alain Sahel, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh who was instrumental in the experiment and founder of GenSight, the blind man initially did not notice anything, but gradually began to report visual effects wearing electronic masks. Sahel described the patient as “the first to benefit from optogenetics.”
With the training, the man was able to determine if a pen was placed on the table in front of him. He can also count the black cups placed in front of him, although sometimes he does not do so correctly.
Optogenetics is widely used in the study of animal blood vessels, where light-sensitive molecules are added to brain cells. Then, using lightweight cables provided via fiber-optic cables, researchers are able to initiate specific nerves, sometimes triggering other systems.
Attempts to reverse the practice as a skin treatment began in 2016, after a Texas mother sat down the first person to be treated with optogenenetics and a small company, RetroSense, which was later acquired by Allergan. The results of the study were not disclosed in public, although Allergan officials later said other patients said he saw a light, such as seeing a bright window in a dark room.
Vedere Bio, a founder from Cambridge, Massachusetts, is also developing an electronic medical device.
According to Roska and the Sahel, a number of patients have now been assisted with clinical trials with the help of GenSight, but only the man whose case is being investigated today is the one who used the skins.
The level of vision restored to the patient remains very low. What they see through googles is transformative, and the concept is not enough to read, or distinguish one thing from another.
The researchers said the logs could be refined and that with more training, the man could see more than he could now see. “The level of vision we are achieving is impossible to predict,” says Sahel.