Optogenetic techniques that use light to control nerve cells are being tried in people at last – and could lead to treatments for several types of blindness
Smart goggles and gene therapy are about to be tested as a cure for blindness. This is one of the first ever uses in people of optogenetics, a technique that involves changing the DNA of nerve cells so that they can be controlled by light.
This technique has been a powerful laboratory tool for understanding how brains work in animals, but has been seen as impractical for use in humans because of the need to put a wire into the brain through a hole in the head.
But 12 people in the UK are now about to have an optogenetic treatment for retinitis pigmentosa, a rare inherited condition in which the eye’s light-sensitive cells slowly die, eventually causing blindness. Because light can reach nerve cells in