Blind mice regain sight after single gene insertion

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IT was surprisingly simple. University of California, Berkeley, scientists inserted a gene for a green-light receptor into the eyes of blind mice and, a month later, they were navigating around obstacles as easily as mice with no vision problems.

They were able to see motion, brightness changes over a thousandfold range and fine detail on an iPad sufficient to distinguish letters.

The researchers say that, within as little as three years, the gene therapy — delivered via an inactivated virus — could be tried in humans who’ve lost sight because of retinal degeneration, ideally giving them enough vision to move around and potentially restoring their ability to read or watch video.

“You would inject this virus into a person’s eye and, a couple months later, they’d be seeing something,” said Ehud Isacoff, a UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology and director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute.

“With neurodegenerative diseases of the retina, often all people try to do is halt or slow further degeneration. But something that restores an image in a few months, it is an amazing thing to think about.”