Scientists make new discovery that may help prevent blindness

Scientists at Switzerland’s Paul Scherer Institute have found a protein in the eye that could lead to treatments that prevent blindness.

In the retina, photoreceptors called rods contain a protein that relays information from the eye to the brain. This allows us to see, especially in dim settings. The protein, known as the cyclic nucleotide-gated (CNG) ion channel, is partly responsible for translating light into a visual image.

By examining the eyes of a cow, scientists were able to extract the protein and study its components.

Scientists Diane Barrett, Gebhard Schertler, Benjamin Kaupp and Jacopo Marino published their research in the peer-reviewed journal, Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

They found that studying the components of the CNG ion channel has paved the way to find medical treatments for blindness.

Certain diseases, like retinitis pigmentosa, a group of rare, genetic disorders involving a loss of retina cells, can cause a gradual loss of vision because photoreceptors die off because the eye can no longer make the protein.

“If we could find molecules that affect the protein, we could prevent the cells from dying — and thus stop people going blind,” Jacopo Marino, a biologist at PSI’s Laboratory of Biomolecular Research, said in a press release.

Now that the precise structure of the protein has been found, scientists might now able to find these molecules and go to the next step to create medical treatments for blindness.

The Paul Scherer Institute is the largest research institute in Switzerland. The institute focuses on research on matters and materials, energy, environment and health.

To learn more about the study, read the press release here.

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