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Biotech Science

Gene Therapy Cures Color-Blind Monkeys 197

Posted by samzenpus
from the hope-for-uriah dept.
SpuriousLogic writes "After receiving injections of genes that produce color-detecting proteins, two color-blind monkeys have seen red and green for the first time. Except in its extreme forms, color blindness isn't a debilitating condition, but it's a convenient stand-in for other types of blindness that might be treated with gene therapy. The monkey success raises the possibility of reversing those diseases, in a manner that most scientists considered impossible. 'We said it was possible to give an adult monkey with a model of human red-green color blindness the retina of a person with normal color vision. Every single person I talked to said, absolutely not,' said study co-author Jay Neitz, a University of Washington ophthalmologist. 'And almost every unsolved vision defect out there has this component in one way or another, where the ability to translate light into a gene signal is involved.' The full-spectrum supplementation of the squirrel monkeys' sight, described Wednesday in Nature, comes just less than a year after researchers used gene therapy to restore light perception in people afflicted by Leber Congenital Amaurosis, a rare and untreatable form of blindness."
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Gene Therapy Cures Color-Blind Monkeys

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  • nuff' said

    • by overbaud (964858) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @07:28PM (#29448677)
      Not as much as geology rocks...
      • by TitusC3v5 (608284)
        Indeed. Now if they could only make this work for humans. One of my X chromosomes has been missing a leg for as long as I can remember. Here's to hoping this research can fix it. :)
        • Re:biotech rocks (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @10:15PM (#29449889) Homepage Journal

          Ditto here. I saw the article at discovery dot com today, and read it. Man, it would be GREAT to get a shot or six, and start seeing all those colors people SAY that they see. I could swear that people are involved in a conspiracy to convince people like me that we're nuts. Purple, lilac, lavender, and a whole lot of others are ALL THE SAME!!

          Oddly enough, the little sample color vision chart they stuck in the article? I was able to see the eye in it. Not real clearly, but when I read the tag caption, I was able to see the eye. The real charts just don't work, though.

      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        I've been looking for geeky posters to add in my classroom for when I become an elementary/primary school teacher. Aside from a picture of Gandalf with the text "If you do not study, you shall not pass!", I now have another to add to the potential collection of wallgeekery. :3

    • by NoYob (1630681)
      Just wait! First the monkeys, then the orangutans, the chimps and then the apes.

      The World will one day be run by those damn dirty apes and they'll enslave us!

      • Just wait! First the monkeys, then the orangutans, the chimps and then the apes.
        The World will one day be run by those damn dirty apes and they'll enslave us!

        Well, so long as they keep their stinking paws off me, I for one welcome our new simian overlords!

    • I'm colour blind myself. (Seriously).

      I'm currently looking around for a cheap monkey suit. I have my own supply of bananas.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by interkin3tic (1469267)

        I'd wait until they find a way to make it work without injecting the viruses into your eyes. I haven't been following gene therapy or viral transfection, I'm assuming there's still the problem that these viruses still insert their genes into your genome at random, potentially interrupting, say retinoblastoma [wikipedia.org]. I think if that happened you'd be many times more likely to develop the cancer the protein is named after [wikipedia.org].

        • Yeah, I know. It's just really exciting. I am genuinely colour blind and the possibility of seeing PROPER colours, like everyone else, is really exciting.

          Of course ultimately pointless. I can genuinely say my colour blindness has never caused me any problems. It's limited my job choices a couple of times, but that was minor really.

          Still, sure would be cool to see stuff properly. I mean grass is green, I know that. But what I see as green is vastly different to what other people see.

          Be nice to see what grass

          • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

            ...possibility of seeing PROPER colours...

            Even more than that, it opens it up for everybody else to see in TRUE color, seeing as how even we color-advantaged folk only see a tiny sliver of the EM spectrum.

            Could you imagine being able to see halfway down the IR spectrum, or well past UV on the other end? Things would look very different, that's for sure. Even just a little bump in both directions would be amazing.

            • Re:biotech rocks (Score:5, Informative)

              by Miamicanes (730264) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @11:25PM (#29450375)

              > Could you imagine being able to see halfway down the IR spectrum, or well past UV on the other end

              IR might be do-able, but UV is almost structurally impossible for the human eye to meaningfully view. The spectral peak of "blue" cones is actually closer to violet than blue. If you look at a sensitivity curve for human blue cones, you'll notice that its peak is just slightly above violet, and its lower third is simply chopped off or attenuated away. The problem is the cornea -- it blocks most UV light. What the cornea doesn't block, the fluid inside the eye absorbs and scatters. There have been reports that people who've had cataract surgery are able to perceive UV as hazy, diffuse "purplish-yellow" light. The idea that something can be purple and yellow is strange, but not as crazy as it sounds when you consider that the color we call "purple" is NOTHING like spectral violet, and is actually an artifact of human vision caused by a nonlinear slope in blue sensitivity. There's a tiny area where the upper end of blue overlaps with the lower end of red, with a small ripple in blue that introduces just enough error in that region to make purple possible.

              There's another problem: chromatic aberration. Ever notice that you can make a fake 3d-like pic using pure red and pure blue, so the blue parts seem to be floating in space compared to the red? That's chromatic aberration at work. The cornea can only focus light from a relatively narrow band. The lower you go, the less-focused the light would be. Similar distortion would become problematic in the infrared range, though not as quickly as at the blue end.

              • That is awesome. I'd never realized that purple is an artifact of our genes, not of the em spectrum. But really, using gene therapy to be a pentachromat would be amazing. You wouldn't even need a thermometer to see how hot the roast is, it'd just have to have the right tint. Maybe even dark thermographic vision.

              • I'd be happy to see in IR, but I'd undergo treatment to become a tetrachromat [wikipedia.org]. That seems a little more likely, since there seem to be people who are tetrachromats.

              • by mcgrew (92797) *

                The problem is the cornea -- it blocks most UV light.

                Key word "most". [wikipedia.org] If you had cones the right size you would indeed see UV.

                Prevention
                Although cataracts have no scientifically proven prevention, it is sometimes said that wearing ultraviolet-protecting sunglasses may slow the development of cataracts.[22][23] Regular intake of antioxidants (such as vitamin A, C and E) is theoretically helpful, but taking them as a supplement has been shown to have no benefit.[24]

                You couldn't see UV if your eyeglass lenses

            • by TheLink (130905)
              I'd rather keep the normal eyes, but add two (or more) auxiliary hi-res hi-spectrum video inputs :).

              After all, if an ape can learn to see a colour it has never seen before, and people can learn to see with their tongues, I figure given some suitable tech the brain can learn to support extra video ins.

              If that's not possible for adults, but only for children, oh well...
            • by holmstar (1388267)
              Did you know that it is possible to get an idea of the true color of the sky? (the sky is actually blue-violet rather than blue-white) You just have to overload your blue cone cells a bit... stare at a blue object that is brightly lit, such as a slip-n-slide or blue kiddie pool sitting in the sun, and after 20-30 seconds, look up at the sky. It will now appear to be a shade of blue-violet instead of blue-white.
            • by srleffler (721400)
              That's not likely to happen. It's much easier to add a capability that already exists in the human genome, than it is to add a capability that only exists in other animals, or not at all. Besides getting the genetics of the photoreceptor right, the brain has to have the right wiring to interpret the resulting signals. Get it wrong, and at best the new visual receptors won't work. Complete blindness would not be the worst possible outcome, either.
      • Are you color "blind", or color "deficient". I can't see much of the red and green spectrum, but yellow and blue are just fine. A far smaller number of people can't see yellow and blue, but they are alright with reds and greens. It's a very rare individual who is "color blind".

        If you are really color blind, I feel for you. Damned road signs and traffic lights must be real killers. They're bad enough for me!

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Yes, it does. It's too late for my dad, though.

      Except in its extreme forms, color blindness isn't a debilitating condition

      Yes it is.

      My dad got a job at Union Electric in the early fifties when I was a toddler. He wanted to be an indoor wireman, but to be an indoor wireman you have to be able to tell a red wire from a green wire, and he can't. He became a lineman instead, and has been retired for about twenty years now.

      When they changed the color of stop signs form yellow to red around 1960, it put him and y

  • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @07:28PM (#29448673) Journal
    Upon seeing the new colors, the monkeys also made the signs for "far out" and "trippy, dude".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @07:31PM (#29448709)

    Now all those poor monkeys will finally be able to get unrestricted pilot licenses!

  • by Gizzmonic (412910) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @07:39PM (#29448767) Homepage Journal

    What about those crazy women with 4 color receptors [tomes.biz]. They are real life mutants! Are we going to get some gene therapy like that? I want 2 receptors for green! I'll be like a human HDTV! In fact, that will be my crimefighting name: The Human HDTV! I fight crime in 1080i! (it would be in 1080p but that's as high as my TV goes)

    • by 1 a bee (817783) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @08:02PM (#29448971)

      Why not go infra-red? From the article..

      Williams, however, was quicker to speculate. âoeUltimately we might be able to do all kinds of interesting manipulations of the retina,â he said. âoeNot only might we be able to cure disease, but we might engineer eyes with remarkable capabilities. You can imagine conferring enhanced night vision in normal eyes, or engineering genes that make photopigments with spectral properties for whatever you want your eye to see.â

      âoeThis study makes that kind of science fiction future a distinct possibility, as opposed to a fantasy,â continued Williams.

      Aye. A story deserving of being /.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Trahloc (842734)
        That was the first thing I thought of as well. If they can bring a sub-par eye up to normal levels then I can't wait until we can add infravision 60'
        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          They can already bring a normal eye to better than 20/20 vision. Almost all baseball players heve LASIK surgery these days, and I have an implant in my left eye that gives me 20/16 vision. Unfortunately the other eye is still 20/400.

      • by Samah (729132)

        Why not go infra-red?

        Cool idea... your TV remote would look like an awesome torch. :)

    • by keeboo (724305) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @08:20PM (#29449113)

      What about those crazy women with 4 color receptors [tomes.biz]. They are real life mutants! Are we going to get some gene therapy like that?

      I'm not sure I would want that.
      All color movies and photographs up now are recorded for a audience of tricromats. Watching movies, seeing your family pictures, browsing the internet etc would probably look poor to tetracromats.

      • by SheeEttin (899897)

        All color movies and photographs up now are recorded for a audience of tricromats. Watching movies, seeing your family pictures, browsing the internet etc would probably look poor to tetracromats.

        So? Glasses to filter out all but visible light (today's visible light) should be trivial. Just like those blue & red 3D glasses.

        • by Miamicanes (730264) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @11:39PM (#29450467)

          > So? Glasses to filter out all but visible light (today's visible light) should be trivial. Just like those blue & red 3D glasses.

          Women believed to be tetrachromatic don't see light trichromats can't see... they recognize two variants of "green" as being different, the same way green and red are different to you. If you were genuinely tetrachromatic in the sense the women are believed to be, TV, film, photographs, and printed images would almost ALWAYS look like shit to you, because the "green" would be "wrong" in ways you couldn't really explain.

          Here's an example: suppose you were a trichromat, living in a world where 94% of the population couldn't distinguish between red and green, and for all intents and purposes "yellow" was just a darker or brighter shade of red/green. Color film wouldn't be based on red, green, and blue... it would be based on blue and yellow. Your RGB monitor would be a BY monitor. To everyone else, the whole idea of "RGB" would be silly, because they could get the exact same image quality from just blue and yellow. You'd be the unfortunate person who kept babbling about there being a difference between "red" and "green", and that they were somehow different from the color everyone else knew as "yellow". Anyway, getting back to the example, a tetrachromatic woman wouldn't want RGB... she'd want RGgB, where "G" and "g" were slightly different frequencies of green. An RGB monitor to a tetrachromat would look just as artificial, fake, and bad as a Blue-Yellow monitor designed for deutranopes and protanopes would to you.

      • Not as poor as black and white television would look to people who can see in more than black and white.

        A story from a while back [slashdot.org] showed that people who watched black and white TV as kids still often have monochromatic dreams. That to me suggests the brain might handle stepping DOWN in number of colors without much complaint. I'd be more concerned with "would the increased range of colors be extremely distracting, or cause seizures in those of us who have lived without 4 color channels?" It might be cons

    • Something makes me suspicious... oh yeah:

      Every single person I talked to said, absolutely not

      I have no knowledge of which labs are trustworthy or whatever but that sentence demands skepticism

  • by ignavus (213578) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @07:46PM (#29448837)

    This definitely has programming implications for me. If you ever have had to design web pages for a superior with color blindness, and they insist on choosing or refusing the colors you want to use, you know the programming problems that color blindness can cause.

    "This page looks best after gene therapy" - hmm, I like it.

    • I would like to get a cortex with build-in syntax highlighting. More colour channels would also help of course.
  • Color blind chimps everywhere rejoice.

  • by mindbrane (1548037) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @07:49PM (#29448859) Journal
    Cerebral achromatopsia [wikipedia.org] will give you a different take on colour blindness as a result of brain damage. Localized brain damage can drain all the colour from your world and leave you in a world of the grey hued zombies. What we tend to think of as our vision isn't just a straight run from the retina back to the occipital lobe, and, much of what we think of a vision is a complex production of various brain modules.
    • by NoYob (1630681)
      Localized brain damage can drain all the colour from your world and leave you in a world of the grey hued zombies.

      Oh, shit! I bordered up myself in my house, held off the zombie cops and all the other zombies - for nothing?! They weren't zombies?! I'm the crazy one?!

      Nah. Back off you zombies!!!

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      To summarize for those who don't want to wade through the wikipedia article, achromatopsia is color blindness resulting from damage to the cortex, the outer layer of the cells in the brain that are generally responsible for all the higher-order processing of the sensory information our nervous system collects. Essentially, this means that your eyes are still functioning normally, but your brain is no longer able to interpret the signals properly; this is normally due to brain damage as result of loss of bl
    • by pclminion (145572)

      Whoa. From the Wiki article, it sounds like this condition renders one incapable of even imagining color in visual imagery, not just seeing it.

    • by Brian Gordon (987471) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @09:59PM (#29449767)

      That is so cool. I love that some people don't even realize they're seeing grey. They can still name colors perfectly fine (they can pick out the "blue flavored" gatorates in the supermarket at a glance), but they don't have the experience of color available to their consciousness. This sort of deconstruction of consciousness's functions is, IMO, the strongest evidence against Cartesian dualism.

      This reminds me of an experiment Bill Nye did. He wore a pair of goggles that flipped his vision upside-down. After a few days (I think) of headaches he completely got used to it and was able to function normally with it upside down. I think I remember him saying that it didn't seem upside down to him, and when they took off the goggles at the end the world seemed upside down again. The really fascinating part was that there wasn't a moment of "flipping" during the experiment: the upside-down image became his expected norm. In other words, the optic nerves don't correspond directly to some raster format where they're tied directly into our Video In consciousness jack. They're interpreted as needed and presented to our consciousness experience post-processing.

      And the simple experiment didn't prove this but I suspect that there's no relative relation between optic nerves either. Like they're just haphazardly bundled together and shipped off to the brain, and the brain's processing adaptively grows to sort and make sense of the random signals. So I suspect that if you sever the optic nerve and connect the nerves randomly your brain will eventually be able to just interpret the new signals as the norm like Bill Nye did.

      The reason I suspect that is because of the really cool electronic sensing technology that's been developed in the last few decades. I think I've read something like they can just send signals into nerves (obviously with sensible modulation/frequency/amplitude) and make the signals vary in some way based on the external world and after awhile patients are able to sense it naturally. Like audio signals to the eardrums and such.

      Oh yeah I found it. This [slashdot.org]. By just shocking areas of the tongue a blind patient can develop a kind of sight. If the top left pixel is dark you shock the top left area, etc. Again, I think that you could completely mix up all of the inputs and after awhile it would be perfectly natural.

      Think of feeling with your hand. A priori you have no idea which nerves in that thick bundle of nerves correspond to a particular finger. But by observing and noticing that when you twitch a certain way a particular finger moves and when you touch something you get an input only on particular nerves you eventually build up an intuitive grasp of which nerve is which (handled transparently of course). The problem is complex and we see side effects all the time. I'm sure everyone's had the experience of being in a weird position with their arms or legs twisted up and you can't really tell which limb is which. You may experimentally try to move a particualar leg that you see and move the wrong one!

      This whole field is fascinating

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by rgspb (987654)
        I always find it interesting how some color-blind people know that they don't see a color the same way a non color-blind person does. There have been quite a few posts here stating how they see the color and then describing what the non color-blind person sees. I'm color-blind (red/green) and don't have any idea I'm seeing something different until someone brings it up. I didn't know peanut butter was NOT red until I was 30. It's how I always saw it and since normally the color of peanut butter is not a to
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          One could imagine a cell-phone application that tells you the color at a crosshair in the camera input in a couple of different color models and using closest-match simple words like "pink" or "reddish pink". Then you could find out the true color of something just by whipping out your cell phone.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Runaway1956 (1322357)

        "That is so cool. I love that some people don't even realize they're seeing grey."

        I really don't think that you've read enough, or else that you have failed to understand what you have read.

        I have both red and green color deficiency. My world is not gray. I see gray, as a distinct color, and I can see many shades of grey.

        Instead of seeing gray where you see a shade of green, I see green. I am unable to distinguish very many shades of green - they sort of blend together. Where you might see 12 different

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by am 2k (217885)

          There are some nature paintings from color-blind people. Those are very enlightening, they don't look like nature at all for non-color blind people like me.

          • There are some nature paintings from color-blind people. Those are very enlightening, they don't look like nature at all for non-color blind people like me.

            My parents first discovered my color blindness when I was in kindergarten. I came home with a crayon drawing of my gerbils, in which I had captured them with in yellow-green. To me that looked more or less correct, or the best I could do with the Crayola 64 box. So imagine a world in which gerbils are more or less yellow-green and you've got my variant of color blindness (or color vision deficiency as my ophthalmologist would insist you call it).

            Something that people occasionally notice is that all of t

      • I remember hearing about doctors just reconnecting many nerves in the lower back after an accident, randomly since it couldn't be known which were which, and after some physical therapy, the patient learned to walk again under the new "wiring".

        I have one questions/wonder about the "filpping the vision" experiment; what about reading, was he able to read as normal, even though the text was now upside down?

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      In college I learned that seeing is almost all done in the brain; the eye just sends signals that the brain decodes and turns into a picture of reality (or what passes for reality).

  • A vanishingly small percentage of the population actually sees four colors [wikipedia.org]. To them, we're somewhat color blind as well. I wonder if this type of therapy can be used to give us 25% blindies another color to check out?

  • First, it's a great achievement just to get the protein appearing sustainably in the right place. More importantly, though, this provides color perception in adult animals whose brains have never received red/green differential stimuli? I never would've guessed that was possible.

    It gives me hope that, when we get retinal or cortical implants that can accept more than three bands of color, our brains will actually be able to handle them. Bring on all fifty-seven colors of the rainbow!

  • by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @08:17PM (#29449097)

    As someone who is color-blind (severely red/green), this news just astounds me.

    The basic fact is that I have no idea, no point of reference to even understand what it is I don't see. It is impossible for me to imagine what "Purple" actually is, since to me it is merely a dark blue. Not hard to imagine, like an unusual experience is, but as far as I'm concerned impossible to imagine.

    Until seeing this article today, I had assumed that I would never be able to understand what most people saw. Having the possibility open up is simply mind-blowing. Imagine what kind of leap that would be for more serious conditions like actual blindness.

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      My uncle and cousin are red/green color blind(severe), runs in our family. I know where you're coming from. I really hope this will becoming out to the public 'soonish'. This is a huge breakthrough.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hurricane78 (562437)

      Gene therapy is really the only actual proper cure for genetic defects know to man. And I think in retrospect, we will see it as one of the greatest inventions ever.

      I mean imagine the possibilities, if you can change any genetics in your body at will!
      Sure, as always, there will be downsides, and there will be a "early alpha" phase. But what we get far surpasses anything bad! And besides: Who will try to stop every human on the planet form doing research in that area or using that knowledge? ^^

      The first thin

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      It's nice to see someone else that thinks the color purple is a conspiracy that all the "normal" vision carry out on us. I can't tell you how many "purple" shirts my daughter has convinced me to buy. There is no such thing as "purple" it's all a conspiracy.

    • by tsstahl (812393)
      I hope it is not too anticlimactic for you. Stuff sucks the same in B&W and color. At least with black and white you get an aura of nostalgia. :) Seriously, this _is_ way cool.
    • by VValdo (10446)

      It is impossible for me to imagine what "Purple" actually is, since to me it is merely a dark blue.

      Oh... be careful what you wish for. If you've lived without the color purple your entire life (and I assume you don't mean the book or movie), and suddenly it appears, who knows what effect this may have... ? Suddenly eggplants and bruises and certain over-the-top prose will connect and run together... things you've never associated before, you'll now see the hidden connections... it'll blow your mind.

    • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

      Purple looks like artificial grape tastes. In other words, you arn't missing much ;)

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Tablizer (95088)

      As someone who is color-blind (severely red/green), this news just astounds me. The basic fact is that I have no idea, no point of reference to even understand what it is I don't see. It is impossible for me to imagine what "Purple" actually is...

      I suppose for us color-enabled people, an analogy might be trying to comprehend what it feels like to have a vagina.

      Then again, for slashdot, merely what it's like to touch one :-)

  • I've heard of glasses that help correct colorblindness and found the following link.

    http://www.dyslexia-help.co.uk/chromagen_colour_deficiency.html

    They even have stuff for dyslexia.. weird.

    Whats interesting is i can partially pass the tests and I don't land into any of the categories of color blindness. If i blur my eyes i can pass the tests, although i remember it being difficult in the "real" test.

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @11:40PM (#29450473) Journal

    "Monkey see, monkey blue"

  • ... including new colors, after a few injections into my eyes, in order to make the torturers stop ...

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