The compound called ‘AAQ’ is less invasive than implanting light-sensitive electronic chips in the eye. It could help those with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disease that is the most common inherited form of blindness and age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of acquired blindness in the developed world.
In both diseases, the light sensitive cells in the retina, rods and cones, die, leaving the eye without functional photoreceptors.
The chemical AAQ acts by making the remaining, normally “blind” cells in the retina sensitive to light, said lead researcher Richard Kramer, professor of molecular and cell biology.
AAQ, a photoswitch that binds to protein ion channels on the surface of retinal cells, when switched on by light, alters the flow of ions through the channels and activates the neurons, rods and cones by light.
Because the chemical eventually wears off, it may offer a safer alternative to other experimental approaches such as gene or stem cell therapies.