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HealthWatch: UC Berkeley Researchers Make Blind Mice See

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A UC Berkeley researcher holds a vial of the drug AAQ. (CBS)

A UC Berkeley researcher holds a vial of the chemical compound AAQ. (CBS)

CBS SF Bay (con't)

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BERKELEY (CBS 5) – A team of University of California, Berkeley scientists has come up with an amazing discovery: a drug that temporarily restored some sight to blind mice.

“We’ve been very excited,” said lead researcher Dr. Richard Kramer.

Dr. Kramer and his team are part of group that discovered a chemical compound that offers hope to individuals who are born with an inherited form of blindness called retinitis pigmentosa or those who become blind because of age-related macular degeneration.

The UC Berkeley researchers studied mice born with a genetic mutation that causes blindness.

Some of the mice were injected with the treatment. These mice, when exposed to a bright light, showed a reaction: their pupils constricted. The pupils of the untreated mice showed no response.

Researchers call the chemical compound “AAQ”. The effects are temporary, but the scientists are already working on newer versions of the chemical that work for a even longer period of time.

“We could restore some level of visual function for up to 24 hours, usually less than 24 hours but the new compounds that we developed can restore function for many days up to two weeks at a time,” said Dr. Kramer.

How does it work? With some diseases that cause blindness, the light sensitive cells in the retina die off. This drug, when applied to the retina, harnesses other different, surviving cells to jump into action and do the job.

“We could make them respond to light,” said Dr. Kramer.

It remains to be seen how the chemical will work in humans. The next step, explained Dr. Kramer, is to use more sophisticated tests with the mice and then see if the drug works the same way in other mammals.

Since AAQ is a drug, the researchers are hopeful that this treatment would be a less invasive alternative to surgical implants, and because of that, if this drug proves safe and effective in humans, it may find a faster way to eye clinics.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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