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Let there be light

There can be few afflictions more tragic and debilitating than blindness.

So I sincerely hope that this qualifies as some sort of breakthrough:

A blind man can see again after being given a stem cell transplant.

Mike May, of California, had been blind for 40 years since an accident at the age of three where he lost one eye and was blinded in the other.

The operation transplanted corneal and limbal stem cells into his right eye.

My very best wishes to Mr.May and to medical team who restored his sight. The possibility that this technique can be used to help blind people everywhere is something that is worth hoping and praying for.

12 comments to Let there be light

  • T. J. Madison

    “And man said: ‘Let there be light!’ And he was blessed by light, heat, magnetism, gravity, and all the energies of the universe. ”

    — The Second Renaissance

  • Sandy P.

    Article doesn’t say whether they were adult stem cells or fetus stem cells.

    That would be interesting to know.

  • S. Weasel

    People who have sight restored in adulthood tend, more often than not, not to do well. Oliver Sacks has written about one case in An Anthropologist on Mars:

    The rest of us, born sighted, can scarcely imagine such confusion. For we, born with a full complement of senses, and correlating these, one with the other, create a sight world from the start, a world of visual objects and concepts and meanings. When we open our eyes each morning, it is upon a world we have spent a lifetime learning to see. We are not given the world: we make our world through incessant experience, categorization, memory, reconnection. But when Virgil opened his eye, after being blind for forty-five years–having had little more than an infant’s visual experience, and this long forgotten–there were no visual memories to support a perception; there was no world of experience and meaning awaiting him. He saw, but what he saw had no coherence. His retina and optic nerve were active, transmitting impulses, but his brain could make no sense of them; he was, as neurologists say, agnosic.

    Good book. Sad situation.

  • Sandy

    They were almost certainly adult stem cells. Adult cells have been used very successfully for at least a couple of years, so much so that it’s ceasing to be news to me when I see a report on it. Fetal stem cells have proved to be almost impossible to control, and in the few cases where an attempt has been made to use them, they either didn’t work at all or turned cancerous. I think they may have beeen used successfully in one case I heard about, but I can’t remember what for. Of course it was trumpeted everywhere that a breakthrough had been made; but in the many cases where adult cells have been used, they have usually been cited as they were in this story, just called “stem cells” and no distinction made as to whether they were fetal or adult cells. And of course, since the huge flap about fetal cells made the news, that’s most people’s default state of knowledge now: they hear “stem cell” and think “fetal stem cell.”

    If all the lobbies which promoted the use of fetal cells — Christopher Reeve’s people come to mind — had just paid attention to the actual state of the research, rather than getting hyper about using fetal cells specifically, the huge controversy of a couple of years ago would have never happened. Adult stem cells are much more stable and controllable, and actually do work.

  • Charles

    S Weasel is correct. People who have their eyesight restored by technological advances tend to revert to living blind. This increases the longer they lost eyesight or the earlier the age they lost sight.

    Sight is not just the eyeball as a single functioning machine. There is the part of the brain that interprets the signals from the eye which needs to be considered. It would be like attaching a digital camera to your computer. Until you load the software the camera won’t do anything whether it is functioning properly as a machine or not.

    So they have a new fix for the machine, but what about the controlling software? It takes a child how many years to learn how to use their eyes? This guy now has to learn how to interpret these signals and grow new parts to his brain. It just isn’t that easy.

  • Susan

    The article doesn’t say anything about the “researchers” who are responsible for this breakthrough or who performed the surgery on Mr. May. Doesn’t anyone think that’s very odd?

    I bet it was done at an American university, by American surgeons based on American research, and the BBC deliberately deleted that information. Evil Kapitalist Amerikkans working on restoring blind people’s sight? Obviously this cannot be.

  • YogSothoth

    Susan – Not sure if the omission by the BBC was deliberate (though I wouldn’t put it past them) but you are definitely correct on all other counts:

    Article in the Austin-American Statesman

  • cydonia

    Now now Susan – stop trying to wind us up!

  • Jason Bontrager

    I have to wonder if this technology will have the same result on the “blind community” (assuming that there is such a thing) as cochlear implants are having on the “deaf community”. Namely, rejection in favor of continued victim status.

  • Joe Miller

    While I appreciate the sentiment, we at the National Federation of the Blind spend a good deal of our time trying to persuade the public that blindness is not the end of the world. There are successful, happy blind people in almost every area of endeavor. The biggest obstacle to success is the very notion that nothing is more tragic than blindness. As for “victim status,” we’re not interested. Given the opportunity to see, most, if not all, of our members would jump at the chance.

  • Jason Bontrager

    Glad to hear it Joe. If I came across as denigrating towards blind people that was not my intent. I realize that being blind is not the end of the world. However I also don’t consider it “differently abled”, so I would be disappointed with anyone who resisted the opportunity to gain, or regain, the gift of sight.

  • randy katana

    is there a bigger picture here?
    if were able to regain lost organs and senses, isn’t it possible that we can gain something we don’t know.
    i know how this sounds, but bear with me.
    drugs can make you experience the world as you’ve never seen before, now people can gain certain trades back they never had.
    i’m just saying this needs more research, cause i think the possibilities are endless…