Genetic color-blindness may soon be a thing of the past. A team of scientists has used gene therapy to enable adult squirrel monkeys to see color for the first time, and they believe their technique could someday work on humans.
Researchers at the University of Washington have been working with adult squirrel monkeys born without the ability to distinguish color. By introducing therapeutic genes for perfect color vision to the light-sensing cells at the back of the monkeys' eyes, the researchers have given the monkeys the ability to distinguish red and green. Although further research is needed, the team is optimistic that this is the first step in curing congenital color blindness, the most common form of which involves a faulty gene on the X chromosome.
But what's truly stunning about the breakthrough is that the monkeys in the study were adults. Light perception has been restored in children suffering from degenerative blindness, but researchers have long believed that adult brains are too "fixed" for sensory disorders to be treatable. That the adult monkey brains were readily receptive to perceiving color, something they had never done before, may open the door to treating a whole host of sensory conditions.