Seeing Again After 43 Years of Blindness

“Excuse me, I just got my sight back last week after being totally blind for 43 years. Could you help me figure out what I am seeing?” That was the question Mike Mays asked a fellow airline passenger as he looked out the window and saw white clouds, green pastures, and rolling blue waves, for the first time since he was three years old.

Roughly three years ago Mike May’s vision was partially restored using state-of-the-art stem cell implants and since then he has kept a journal detailing the amazing transition from an inability to see, to playing catch with his six year old in their yard.  A truely amazing transition.

After years of research it seems like the cure for blindness is finally within the realm of possible.  Stem cells are cells in a very early stage of development, cells that will eventually become organs, body parts, etc. Scientists have found ways to isolate these cells in mold them in a way that they develop to suit a particular trait.

Another example of someone who underwent a similar operation is Christian Guardino, a teenager born with a rare genetic mutation that made him legally blind. Christian’s mother Elizabeth questioned whether he’d ever be able to even recognize her. That’s when researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Scheie Eye Institute stepped in with what Elizabeth could only call “a miracle”. Days after an implant Christian’s vision had improved ten fold.

The gene implant that gave Christian back his sight was produced in a lab by researcher Jean Bennett who worked with a team for over 20 years to develop the solution. Although she’s ecstatic about the results in Christian’s case Bennett knows that things don’t always pan out as well. Only about 1 out of 200 of these types of operations have the same type of success.

There are nearly 39 million people on Earth who are blind-that’s one in every two hundred-so to see how far we’ve come is inspiring for those working in the field.


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