Your ability to see isn’t magic, it is the product of all the rods, cones, and photoreceptors within your eye working together to translate light into electrical signals that are sent to your brain. The brain, then interprets the electrical signals and what you see today is the product of that interpretation. We call that interpretation “vision.”
What causes blindness?
There are certain types of genetic and non-genetic diseases that can cause damage to photoreceptors and retinal ganglion cells. When these get damaged they begin to function improperly and eventually die, at that point we lose our ability to see.
In developed countries around the world, Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of damage and death to the photoreceptors in the human eye. The human body has limited abilities to repair damage to nerve cells, and unfortunately lacks the ability to grow new ones. Without these photoreceptors, the eye has trouble converting light to electrical signals for the brain, causing your vision to grow darker.
Cataracts are another major issue, and are the leading cause of blindness around the world. If you are over the age of 40 and are having issues with vision loss, then there is a good chance you are beginning to develop cataracts. The damage done by cataracts is at the front of the eye, and can be corrected fairly easily with LASIK surgery.
Issues with dying cones, rods, and photoreceptors are located at the back of the eye, so they are unreachable by current LASIK technology.
Is there a cure for blindness?
Currently there aren’t a ton of options in place. There are some bionic eyes available, but the technology is a bit crude and will only provide you with the most basic ability to see. The good news is that there are scientists looking for a way to cure blindness. One possible cure that is currently being tested is called “photoswitch.”
The ganglion cells in your eyes remain intact despite damages to your photoreceptors. The issues is that without those photoreceptors, your ganglion cells are just sitting there with nothing to do. Photoswitch takes these dysfunctional ganglion cells and infuses them with photoswitch molecules.
These molecules are designed to change shape in response to light. This gives the ganglion cells the ability to sense light on their own. This essentially makes your ganglion cells self-sufficient vision producing machines!
The animal testing of the photoswitch molecule has thus far given off positive results, but we won’t know for sure if this technology is a viable option for humans until more tests have been completed. If results are positive after human testing then photoswitch can improve vision for those suffering blindness beyond anything that the current bionic eye technology offers.