Light therapy has been proven to help with mental health and anti-aging, but for others, it can improve one of the five senses: sight. But using light therapy for vision problems isn’t something new. Photo-syntonic light therapy has been clinically used for over 70 years to treat vision conditions such as depth perception, lazy eye, and reduced peripheral vision. However, it’s never been used to actually restore eyesight – until now.
Say hello to optogenetic therapy, the light therapy treatment that’s producing groundbreaking results for those suffering from blindness. In one study, optogenetic therapy is described as “a new approach that combines neurobiology and genetic engineering techniques to provide light-mediated control over the cell physiology in curving retinal cells that are normally insensitive to light.” In layman's terms, optogenetic therapy manipulates cells with light.
The technology was developed in the early 2000s, yet it was never used on humans until one man decided to be the first human trial patient; and the results are astonishing. The first patient to undergo this therapy has achieved partial, yet functional recovery of his eyesight. What’s even more impressive was that this patient was completely blind prior to the light therapy treatment.
“The eye is a very complex system that allows our vision to adapt to different levels of light,” says first and corresponding author, José-Alain Sahel, chair of ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Eye Center, and professor at Sorbonne University in France. “But complex systems are very fragile—so when vision disappears, there are few treatments left aside from using prosthetics or reactivating remaining cells in the retina.”
So the researchers involved in this study decided to approach this problem from a new angle. Rather than trying to fix mutated genes individually that respond to light, they decided to activate the nerve cells directly.
To achieve this, they injected a light-sensing protein called channelrhodopsin into the eye. This specific protein is found in algae and responds to light. They aimed to target ganglion cells—neurons that collect signals and transfer information from the optic nerve to the brain to translate information into an image. But doing this wasn’t going to be easy.
They designed a pair of goggles that would help take the light around the patient and turn it into a single wavelength of amber light. These goggles would transfer the light directly into the retina in real-time.
And the results were mind-blowing. The patient, who was once completely blind, could locate and identify different objects while wearing the goggles. Sahel says, “Initially, the patient didn’t find the glasses very useful, but after a few months, he started to see the white stripes on a crosswalk and after several training sessions was able to recognize other objects, big and small.”
If you’re still wondering, can red light therapy improve vision? The answer is yes. With 26 million people worldwide having total vision loss, this breakthrough proves great potential for those who have lost complete or partial vision.
“Blindness is one of the most life-altering conditions a person could experience,” says William Hauswirth, an ophthalmologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “Restoring useful vision would make an almost unimaginable improvement in quality of life.”
As you can see, this is just the start for red light therapy in vision treatment. With this step forward, more clinical research will take place and in turn, available light therapy products will be provided to the vision-impaired community.
The medical community is just starting to take witness to the power of light therapy. Luckily, Kaiyan Medical has long supported the use of red light therapy to aid with mental health, skin conditions, and overall health.
If you’re interested in including light based products in your medical practice or for at-home use, Kaiyan’s MDA-certified and FDA-approved light therapy devices will provide the results you’re looking for.