Blind people have regained the ability to perceive shapes thanks to a novel device.
This article is taken from the monthly Sciences et Avenir – La Recherche n°907, September 2022.
To see again -and perhaps one day to hear- thanks to a technique: optogenetics. How ? Taking control of neurons with light. Thus, a world first was announced in May 2021 at the Institut de la vision, in Paris, by a French team led by professors José Sahel and Botond Roska (University of Pittsburgh, United States) with the start-up GenSight.
Since the so-called Pioneer trial, two patients partially regained the ability to perceive shapes by using a wearable visual device to amplify them. Suffering from retinitis pigmentosa, these people had lived in total darkness for more than fifteen years and their photoreceptors, the light-sensitive cells of the retina, had been gradually destroyed.
Opsins to restore hearing
Since the publication of German works in Sciences In 2002, scientists learned that an algae protein, an opsin, becomes capable, when exposed to light, of producing an electrical current. Therefore, they used this property to introduce, by injection into the eye, the genetic code of the opsin in human photoreceptors by means of a viral vector conventionally used in gene therapy, an adenovirus. The two patients began to perceive visual forms, seven months after the injection for the first and twelve months for the second. The trial is still ongoing and should continue with other patients.
For hearing, opsins have also been used, but so far only in rodents. With initial success for the work of Dr. Tobias Moser, ENT surgeon at the head of the Institute for Auditory Neuroscience in Göttingen (Germany). His goal is greater: to restore hearing, this time achieving the expression of the opsin gene at the level of the c bone.[…]
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