If the 18th century English poet and clergyman John Newton were alive today, he would likely be shocked to hear his words “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see”, associated with a column about the advances of science. Whereas he was using the words of Amazing Grace to speak metaphorically about the human soul, we’re talking about honest-to-goodness restoration of sight. In this week’s Science Savvy, Anna Henkin writes about a paper we recently discussed in our Developmental Neurobiology seminar, sharing her hope that recent discoveries in mice will light the way towards new stem-cell based treatments for restoring sight in humans with debilitating diseases such as macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of age-related blindness in the developed world and is typified by the gradual loss of central vision. Although this disease has a clear genetic component, we have very little understanding of the molecular mechanisms that lead to the loss of sight. Stem cell therapies that regenerate dead or dying photoreceptors offer promise for treating this and other diseases of vision. Recent proof of principle experiments in mice (Pearson et al., 2012) are promising, but more controls and additional experiments need to be performed before these procedures move to the clinic.