Night vision eye drops that could allow us to see normally invisible infrared light were developed, with a team of researchers figuring out how to give mammals a superhero-like vision. Innovative research initially focused on mouse testing, but the same principles should – theoretically – work with all mammals.
Human vision only covers a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Although our eyes can handle wavelengths as low as 400 nanometers and about 700 nanometers, it still leaves whole areas of the spectrum that are lost to our sight.
The area of special interest of a team of researchers at UMass Medical School and the China University of Science and Technology is the infrared and the near infrared. This is the longest wavelength spectrum, above the limit where the human eye can see. Our eyes just can not recognize it.
This may well change in the future, however. The researchers developed a nanoantennae solution that, applied to the eyes, allowed the test mice to see infrared light. The solution contains a "lectin protein-conjugated nanoparticle" used to guide nanomanes to the right side of the retinal photoreceptor of the mouse, and then fix them in place.
Rather than changing the photoreceptor, the tiny antennas modify the near-infrared (NIR) light. It is converted to visible green light, which is then observed by the retina. These data are interpreted by the brain as visible light.
There are other important factors at play. For starters, the droplets apparently do not interfere with the mouse's ability to see normal light as usual. The improvement is temporary too, and the ability to recognize the NIR will eventually fade. This occurred approximately two weeks after the application, as the mice had no observable effect on their health or vision.
"We believe this research is a breakthrough in the field of biotechnology," said Gang Han, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology, about the project. "This exciting study is expected to pave the way for many critical applications with the unique creation of NIR mammal visual capacity and high translational potential."
The results have been reported in a new document in Cell. A number of tests on mice showed that they also got a NIR Pattern view and could differentiate between triangles, circles and other relatively complex shapes. "The treated mice were able to perceive these light structures even in broad daylight," say the researchers, "indicating that the nanoparticles were working in parallel with the conventional vision."
Obviously, we still have a bottle of eye drops that you could pick up at CVS and pour into your eyes for instant night vision. Nevertheless, expectations about the implications of research are vast. The nanoantennae could help scientists understand how the brain understands visual cues, for example, or develop new treatments for color blindness.
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