What on earth do Zebra fish have to do with the health of our eyes? A lot according to scientists. Fish eyes have the ability to regenerate if they suffer damage or injury. Human eyes do not. Now researchers want to learn how fish eyes repair themselves in the hopes that they can use that knowledge to repair human eyes.
New research reported in Medical News Today has uncovered the specific science behind the self-repairing eyes in fish. If scientist can replicate that process, they might be able to develop new therapies that could repair or restore lost vision in human eyes. Another reason this has promise is that fish and mammals have very similar structures in the retina, so what works in one might just work in the other.
The first studies began on the hypotheses that a neurotransmitter might help to regenerate retinas in fish. The neurotransmitter, (a chemical that transfers nerve impulses from one nerve to another) controls some of the stem cells in the retina. Some of those stem cells provide support for the structure of the retina in human beings, but in fish they also play what scientists call “a crucial role in regeneration”. When fish eyes are regenerating, the stem cells regress from being specialized to being simple. Then they change from being simple to being specialized once again. However, they don’t return to their initial specialized purpose. Instead, they become replacements for the nerve cells that were damaged. In other words, if your car could do this and the front bumper was crushed in an accident, the rear view mirror would regress to become a piece of sheet metal and then it would become specialized again but this time as the front bumper!
Repairing degenerative eye diseases
What types of vision loss could this Zebra fish research help? Any degenerative eye disease would benefit from regeneration. These include:
Age-related macular degeneration: AMD is a disease that damages the part of the retina called the macula. It causes the loss of sharp, central vision while maintaining side vision. AMD is a leading cause of vision loss among people age 50 and older. It gets progressively worse over time.
Retinis Pigmentosa: RP is a rare, inherited (genetic) disorder that causes a slow loss of vision. Unfortunately, it is a progressive disorder with no cure. Typically, it is diagnosed in adolescents and young adults and sadly most people with RP are legally blind by age 40. An estimated 100,000 people in the U.S. have RP, mainly caused by gene mutations (variations) inherited from one or both parents.
By the description of just these two degenerative eye diseases you can see what an enormous impact research and medical discoveries could have. Millions of people would benefit from the ability to regenerate eyes and restore vision. Scientists are continuing their research and trying to determine the precise role of neurotransmitters and the entire regenerative process in Zebra fish.
While scientists continue their research, we continue our work serving patients with low vision. Nearly all of our patients have been told that nothing more can be done to enhance their sight. We don’t accept that. Instead, we work to provide innovative medical devices and treatments that can enhance functional vision and return our patients to the things they love; reading, hobbies, watching TV, driving and seeing the faces of the ones they love.