When you think of three blind mice, the nursery rhyme usually comes to mind, however, the mice we are referring to were lab-rats at Stanford University. These three rodents were used to be blind but Stanford recently successfully restored multiple key aspects of vision in the mice, according to the Stanford News center. In addition, it might be the first step in restoring sight for blind humans.
While these tests were being done, scientists fiddled with optic-nerve cables, which help carry visual information from the eye to the brain, in order to have them regenerate after being completely destroyed. It runs out that these cables had the capability to re-establish connections with areas of the brain. Before the eye-brain connection was put back together, the mice had conditions similar to glaucoma, which is one of the leading causes of blindness. There is no cure at the moment so that this research could be a huge breakthrough for the blind.
The way that regeneration seems to lie in a cascade of growth-enhancing chemical reactions, known as the mTOR pathway. In their research, the Stanford team increased the activity of the pathway. Mice with a severed optic nerve “were either treated with gene therapy targeting the mTOR pathway, images of a moving black-and-white grid, or both.” After almost a month, researchers found that when both approaches were used, and the undamaged eye was covered to encourage the use of the problem eye, the optic nerve axons regenerated.
“Somehow these retinal ganglion cells’ axons retained their own GPS systems,” Andrew Huberman, the study’s senior author, said. “They went to the right places, and they did not go to the wrong places. Several dozen mice had vision restored to varying degrees.” But varying degrees is a strong qualifier. Even then, some mice still failed vision tests. Huberman attributed this to “only a very small fraction of neurons regenerated — probably less than 5 percent.”