Seeing is Believing

We’ve got our eyes on you.

There are fun aspects about doing this blog. Some even joyous. Today finds me able to share something like that with you. The World News Center casts its nets far and wide looking for stuff we can share. Because of that we’ve gotten superhero news ahead of the curve, science stuff that seems like it should be in a mediocre movie (no one will believe that!) yet turns out to be real. Since we’re not an official anything to anyone we’re able to fly under the radar, keep our sources private, and just wait to be proven right. Or, in one spectacular case, wrong. But that’s okay. If an error gets made it gets owned. That said, I just heard form one of our readers about her cousin. She’s in an experimental program which is attempting to restore eyesight to people who’ve lost it due to trauma. Think car wrecks and the like.

The problem with this line of research is obvious; the eyes are often destroyed. It’s no longer a matter of fixing something, they need to be replaced. While some research has been done on robotic eyes, science is a long way from making that a reality. Corneal replacements, when possible, have been around for a century and work. But there is nothing that can fully replace a human eye and grant sight.

But, today, there is real hope. I’ll start with cutting edge and then get to the experiment our reader’s cousin is participating in.

Donovan Alexander, over at Interesting Engineering, talks about a gene therapy that has shown amazing results.

How do scientists plan to give sight to the visually impaired? The answer may be found in gene therapy. Published in the March 15 issue of Nature Communications, the experiments led by, Ehud Isacoff, a UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology and director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, centered around blind mice.

The process used to combat the vision issues in the blind mice was both elegant and relatively simple. Using an inactive virus, the scientists were able to insert a gene for a green-light receptor into the eyes of blind mice.

After a month the mice were able to navigate around obstacles with little to no vision issues. Even more so the newly healed mice were able to see motion, fine detail and a wide range of brightness changes. What is even more exciting is that this gene-therapy could be available in as little as three years.

Now, this therapy only works if the person still has eyes. I know that sounds stupid, but it needs to be considered. That said, there are over 170 million people who would be eligible for this treatment. They are ramping up into human trials and I’ll keep this updated as they get closer to commercial release. Or, as always, you can just use my email at the bottom of this post to stay in touch.

The cool thing about this research is that the human eye sees in RGB. That means Red, Green, and Blue. By focusing on green it allows the eyes to detect yellow and blue, which combine to form green, and their absence would be seen as black. It’s not a complete color spectrum, but it’s more than enough for a person to function free of artificial aids.

But what if the eyes are completely destroyed? Well, if you’re a Star Trek fan, you’re going to love this. This is the first step to having a real life Geordi La Forge. He had a device called a VISOR which allowed him to see a wide range of visual spectrums. Now, scientists are saying, there might be something to this sci-fi stuff.

Elaine Schmidt, over at UCLA, shares a bit about the ongoing research being done, including our reader’s cousin, that is granting eyesight to the blind.

It’s an implant that is activated by a pair of glasses. I’ll let her tell you the rest.

The device is geared to people who used to be able to see but lost their vision to injury or disease. While it doesn’t provide normal sight, it enhances users’ ability to navigate the world by restoring their capacity to detect movement and distinguish light and dark.

“This is the first time we’ve had a completely implantable device that people can use in their own homes without having to be plugged into an external device,” said Dr. Nader Pouratian, a neurosurgeon at UCLA Health and principal investigator of the five-year study. “It helps them recognize, for example, where a doorway is, where the sidewalk begins or ends or where the crosswalk is. These are all extremely meaningful events that can help improve people’s quality of life.”

Designated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a “Breakthrough Device,” the system wirelessly converts images captured by a tiny video camera mounted on sunglasses into a series of electrical pulses. The pulses stimulate a set of 60 electrodes implanted on top of the brain’s visual cortex, which perceives patterns of light and interprets them as visual clues.

“I’ll see little white dots on a black background, like looking up at the stars at night,” said Esterhuizen, the world’s second research subject to receive the device, called Orion. “As a person walks toward me, I might see three little dots. As they move closer to me, more and more dots light up.”

Along with the glasses, the system also includes a belt equipped with a button, which patients can press to amplify dark objects in the sun, and press again to visualize light objects in the dark, such as an oncoming car’s headlights at night.

Six people have received the implant: the first three at UCLA Health, two at Baylor College of Medicine and the sixth at UCLA. Recipients have expressed delight at once again being able to enjoy fireworks and blow out candles on a birthday cake.

In essence, the dots form shapes, the brain recognizes those shapes, and the person can “see” objects. As noted in the article, that allows them to make out some pretty fine detail.

Now, here’s something fun. For centuries there have been games geared towards blind people. The idea being that blind people like fun too. Not a bad thought. But what if you’re not blind and want to play a game with your blind friend? Believe it or not, no one put much thought into that until now.

Mattel has released a version of UNO that has Braille and pictures.

So many American families have experienced the joy a deck of UNO cards can bring. And now, thanks to a new development, even more people can get down to that final second and shout, “Uno!”

It’s all because Mattel is finally producing a Braille version of the game to include blind and sight-impaired players!

This is huge news for people with vision problems, who will no longer have to modify their own decks to participate. And the fact that major brands are paying more attention to their needs shows a trend toward inclusivity in our society that we couldn’t be happier about!

“We’re making a real impact on a community that has been underserved,” said Ray Adler, Mattel’s global head of games. “We are proud to have UNO Braille on shelves and to be making UNO more accessible.”

There are plans to do this with many more games. Soon vision won’t be an impediment to enjoying a raucous game of whatever with your friends.

And, if you want to share this article with your vision impaired friends, just make sure they have Google Chrome as a browser, and send them THIS LINK so they can convert text to speech for free.

Listen to Bill McCormick on WBIG (FOX! Sports) every Friday around 9:10 AM.
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