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  A. Getting Blind Nerve Cells to See the Light

Narrator: This is Science Today. ‘Blind' nerve cells were able to see the light in a recent study at the University of California, Berkeley. Richard Kramer, a professor of molecular and cell biology says although it's a long way off, their technique may one day lead to therapy to restore sight to those who have lost it due to disease. Kramer's group inserted a light-activated switch into brain cells normally insensitive to light.

It's a combination of a synthetic chemical made by our chemistry colleagues at UC Berkeley and a genetically engineered protein that is responsible for the electrical signaling in nerve cells. And the idea is you put these two things together and now you can make those signaling proteins directly sensitive to light. And so if you shine light on cells that have these proteins, those cells now should become responsive to light. We're most interested in doing this in the visual system, in the eye, where of course light is readily accessible to your nervous system, particularly the retina, which is in the back of the eye.

For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.