Restoring Vision to the Blind: Wouldn't that Be Mice?
Written by Alyssa Clark
Restoring Vision to the Blind: Wouldn’t that Be Mice?
Believe it or not, the University College London’s scientists just may have done the impossible— a recent study has created the possibility of restoring sight to the blind. The how to’s of this new intricate development is explained in a story reported by New Scientist, as more and more people are becoming aware of this life-changing possibility.
Stemming from researchers being able to grow light-sensing cells found in the retina of the eye from scratch, these scientists have been able to successfully transplant these embryonic stem cells into the eyes of blind mice. How’s that for medical innovation?
This study targets restoring the vision of those with no remaining photoreceptor cells and although full, successful restoration hasn’t yet been reached, the researchers have successfully restored vision to a man with partial blindness. When these lab-grown photoreceptor cells are newly implanted into the mice’s eye, they can successfully establish connections with the nerves and send visual signals to the brain. The positive results that have been generated by the harmless testing that has occurred on these mice leave researchers ecstatic about the potential for this technology to be utilized in humans.
Blindness is caused by the degeneration of photoreceptor cells, and by implementing these new “home grown” cells, this technology can virtually eliminate that problem for patients with diabetes or simply matters associated with standard aging as well. The New Scientist reports that Robin Ali, the director of the team to invent and perform the transplant, has high hopes for the experiment. Leaving no one behind, Ali hopes that this surgery will “help us treat a broad range of patients”, and help give people back their sight, something they have long thought impossible.
Ali explains that they "now have a route map for doing this with human embryonic stem cells," and that "the challenge is to get [the procedure] efficient enough for transplants."
It has taken over a decade to get this testing up, running and producing quality results— but patience proves once again to be a virtue for those waiting to see their own future sight possibilities. Unfortunately, the process may take another 5 years to make it to the human testing spectrum, but with this technology on the horizon, it sure makes the dark days for those afflicted with blindness much more hopeful. Having this technology readily available and being constantly furthered can only benefit those waiting on a solution, and this reassures them that regaining sight is not just an idea, it’s an actual possibility.
The procedure has actually already produced results on a man who had a few surviving photoreceptor cells, as he managed to successfully accept the lab-grown ones, and he was able to eventually regain sight. Crossing curing partial-blindness off the list of to do’s for this study is a large feat, and is one that will have people continuously talking for years to come as they wait for the day when patients will be able to see this study’s results firsthand.
About the Author
Alyssa Clark is the Editor of Healthcare Global
Five minutes with Stanley Healthcare's Troy Dayon
Stanley Healthcare provides technology solutions for caregivers, whether they are in a hospital, a care home, or at home. Here the company's President Troy Dayon explains the challenges carers face and what role technology plays in care for the elderly.
The healthcare workforce is shrinking while the population is aging. How can this be addressed?
Not only is the healthcare workforce shrinking, but the industry is facing the issue of overload and burnout among healthcare professionals.
One major approach to address this is to help each caregiver to accomplish more – not by pushing them harder but by focusing their attention on the things that matter most, harnessing technology such as AI and machine learning.
This technology provides caregivers with information on what care is needed, and which patients or residents to focus on first based on risk or acuity. The insights that it provides can help caregivers to be more efficient and address issues that would usually require more of their time, such as critical asset location, which takes time away from giving the care where it’s needed most.
What do healthcare providers need to do to address clinician burnout?
It is key for healthcare providers to understand the setting and the specific environment in which clinicians have been working. Many hospitals across the globe reconfigured entire wards to treat COVID-19 patients, and for more than a year, clinicians have been working in crisis mode.
They need the opportunity to return to regular, sustainable routines, supported by technologies that help make them more efficient, but also more fulfilled because they maximise time with patients, applying their hard-earned education and experience to work at the top of their license.
In aged care, the experience of managing a highly contagious and deadly virus has reinforced the need for a proactive approach to managing the health of residents. Caregivers need predictive tools like the Foresite solution to help them understand which residents are at greatest risk, so they can focus their efforts where they can have the most impact.
How can technology support older people?
AI-based technology such as Foresite harnesses a range of passive monitoring technologies to develop a baseline profile of a resident in aged care that highlights changes in health or behaviour. This information can help caregivers see where and when they need to spend their time, identifying heightened risk for falls and early indication of heart issues and even infections.
In fact, the technology has been shown to accurately predict events like falls, which allows intervention prior to an event occurring, rather than just automating routine processes.
Beyond this, connecting caregivers remotely to seniors to provide efficient care outside of traditional care settings is crucial. During the pandemic, there was a marked increase in the use of telehealth and remote monitoring of vitals, medication management and daily health.
These technologies fill a major gap in healthcare delivery: care for patients once they’ve been discharged from hospital, or for seniors who need some level of care but don’t need to be in an aged care home. By caring for people effectively in their own homes, we can help reduce the burden on hospitals from readmissions and leverage the expertise of aged care organisations beyond the confines of the four walls of the facility.
A lot of care is in fact delivered by unpaid carers. How can they be better supported with tech?
The remote monitoring technology that professional caregivers have access to can, in turn, also provide information and support to unpaid caregivers. For example, helping ensure a loved one is taking their medication, or knowing when they might be experiencing a change in health that can put them at risk.
Human observation is inherently limited, no matter how often you see a loved one, and you can’t always rely on what a senior says about themselves. It’s very common that they downplay problems, because no one wants to be a burden or relinquish their independence.
Remote solutions that connect family to an older relative help increase safety and wellbeing for the senior and reduce the burden on caregivers. They also make possible care decisions based on facts. At some point, a senior may need to transition to an aged care setting, which is often a difficult family conversation. This is an area where we can offer support to unpaid caregivers – reassurance during what is typically a very stressful period for the people providing that care.
In Japan several large hospitals are deploying robot nurses. Is this a potential solution?
I think the best path for robotics in healthcare is to focus on the root problem. It’s about dealing with a limited number of caregivers for a population that’s rapidly aging. Robotic technologies offer solutions that support the human healthcare providers with the information they need to make better and faster decisions about care. It’s about convergence and use of technology rather than a specific solution such as a robotic nurse.
This technology could be in the form of AI and machine learning or a robotic agent for routine administrative tasks. Removing low-value activities that distract caregivers from giving care is a key focus when it comes to robotics in healthcare. This automation can free up time for caregivers to spend more time with patients while optimising workflows.
Robots in this sense don’t replace humans. They are leveraged for what they do well – repetitive routines done with speed and precision – while humans are given the time and space to deliver what ultimately we all want: human-centered care.