November 12, 2002.
By NOVA PIERSON,
The Calgary Sun.
Wet rats could help provide a cure for the leading cause of blindness in people over 55, thanks to researchers in southern Alberta.
Glen Prusky's laboratory in the University of Lethbridge's Canadian Centre for Behavioral Neurosciences has developed a way to test the rat's vision -- since eye charts obviously don't work -- using a pool and two computer screens. Prusky teamed with University of Utah researcher Dr. Ray Lund -- they presented their findings this week at the Society for Neuroscience conference in Florida -- who implanted human pigment epithelial cells into the rats' eyes.
The rats, whose sight was degenerating like those of humans with age-related macular degeneration, were able to demonstrate that the injections limited their sight loss by more easily finding their way out of a pool.
"We put the rats in water -- it sounds a bit disarming, but rats are natural swimmers," said Prusky.
But the rats don't like swimming, so they sought out the exit -- marked by one of two computer screens. While the way out was marked by black and white bars, the other was grey.
The worse the rats' eyesight got, the harder it was for them to distinguish between the screens.
"All the data we've had shows the rats maintain better vision," said Prusky.
But further tests will need to be done before human trials are possible.
Millions of North Americans have age-related macular degeneration, caused when epithelial, or lining cells, in the retina degenerate, affecting the eye's light receptors.
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