The Development of Optogenetics and its Potential to Cure Blindness
Keywords:Optogenetics, Blindness, Cure, Retinitis Pigmentosa
In humans, sight resides atop the hierarchy of senses. Eyes allow people to perceive the world around them, interpret information they observe, and make informed decisions when faced with new situations. Without vision, a person can no longer connect with their surroundings, leaving them vulnerable to physical dangers and the socioeconomic consequences of blindness (Khanna et al., 2007). Blind individuals have a 44.2% employment rate compared to a 77.2% employment rate for people without disabilities according to the American Community Survey (ACS). Additionally, blind individuals have jobs with lower salaries (McDonnall et al., 2019). A cure for blindness would prove invaluable as over 1.1 million people in the United States are considered legally blind. Despite centuries of research into the prospect of restoring sight, a panacea remains unknown. However, modern advancements in biotechnology and gene therapy offer promising results in helping individuals regain their vision. One such novel technique is optogenetics, an approach that involves genetically modifying cells so that they can sense light, allowing the precise manipulation of neural activity. Researchers hypothesize that through optogenetics, light activated cells could replace damaged sensory cells in the retina, possibly mitigating photoreceptor-related impairments to a person’s sight. Here, we delve into new optogenetic therapies being developed to cure blindness. First, we provide a brief summary of the visual system, discuss the advent of optogenetic research in its early stages, and finally analyze how this technology has been implemented as a method to restore sight in animal models and a human case study.
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