University of Louvain, I studied techniques for restoring sight to blind people suffering from a disease called retinitis pigmentosa. Our technique involved a sophisticated brain implant that electrically stimulated the optic nerve to produce sensations of light. Properly stimulated, the implant could cause the person to see recognizable patterns. It was really a pretty cool system. There are other labs working on the same problem, the most advanced of which is the Doheny Eye Institute at USC which works in tandem with a company called Second Sight. Their strategy is to place a grid of stimulators directly on the retina. The electrodes are stimulated in patterns to match whatever scene is being seen by a video camera clipped to the user's glasses.
Despite the success of such labs and the inherent coolness of the projects, I left my postdoc feeling that the future of such research was ultimately flawed. I reasoned that a biological solution would become available far sooner than an electrical one. Surely, some bright scientist would figure out how to squirt some genes into the retina to stimulate them producing healthy cells?
It turns out that not only is such work being done but its actually being done in my backyard. This article discusses research being performed at Penn where, they are using gene therapy to treat retinitis pigmentosa in dogs. Very cool. Read the article through to the end. Lots of cool details.