The treatment is being called a breakthrough in optogenetic therapy, and offers a chance of vision restoration in people with retinitis pigmentosa, the degradation of photoreceptive cells in their eyes.
Found in glowing algae, the protein, called channelrhodopsin ChrimsonR, aids in the flow of ions in and out of the cell after being exposed to light. The application of this protein opens up new possibilities for retinal gene-therapy, as it bypasses the broken photoreceptors typifying retinitis pigmentosa.
Instead, the ChrimsonR genes were targeted for retinal ganglion cells, which are part of the vision equipment responsible for taking information from photoreceptors and relaying them to the optic nerves, and then to the brain where they're transformed into what we know as sight.
The ganglia were essentially given the job of the photoreceptors, which due to the disease no longer functioned. A pair of purpose-built goggles collected the image of the world and condensed it into a single amber-light spectrum, the one which causes the channelrhodopsin ChrimsonR protein to change shape and send signals to the brain.