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News: Algae proteins partially restore sight

Research led by Dr. Jose-Alain Sahel has been able to partially restore the sight of a blind man using a chemical found in Algae.

Sahel’s team used the proteins in Algae responsible for sensing light in the photosynthesis process. These proteins, called channelrhodopsin, were harvested from a freshwater algae species native to Russia. The study involved injecting the genetic code of the protein into a virus (modified not to cause harm), before introducing the virus into the man’s eye via. Retinal ganglion cells.

The protein used, named ChrimsonR, was chosen for its ability to detect red and amber light cues. These are generally safer in optical research, as blue lights require more constriction of the pupil. The ChrimsonR was also fused with a secondary red fluorescent protein to increase the chances of amber light viewing success.

In order to test the new genetic implant, the researchers used light simulating goggles. These were designed to pick up changes in light and project the corresponding visuals onto the retina using the wavelengths that trigger ChrimsonR.

Over four months after the injection, the researchers began using the goggles to visually train the patients. After a year, the man was able to perceive objects placed on the table in front of him, and complete tasks such as counting darkly colored cups on the table.

The patient has since experienced even more improvement in his sight, though a full restoration is still far away. Other patients have received the injection, though visual training has been delayed during the pandemic.

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