We may usually get medicine in the form of pills and shots, but it’s worth remembering that the ingredients for those came from somewhere — and beyond that, people made their remedies out of what grew around them. It’s possible that if all the illnesses in the world are going to be cured, we’ll have to look to the world itself for the materials. As it so happens, one of those illnesses might be in the cross-hairs; algae may hold the key to wiping blindness out.
It’s not as simple as jumping into a pond and smearing algae all over someone’s face, though. The key element is a protein inside the single-celled organisms that comprise algae; known as Channelrhodopsin-2, it can make neurons react to light. The current theory — one that the FDA has approved for testing — is that if the protein can make a cell that normally doesn’t react to light become active, then the same can be done with cells in a different location. Put simply, they plan to infuse the protein’s qualities with something that needs to respond to light: the eye.
Even with a sound theory set, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. The protein and its properties would have to be added with gene therapy, which opens up a host of other problems. For example, there’s no guarantee yet that Channelrhodopsin-2 is powerful enough to restore sight to human eyes; even if it is, it hasn’t been conclusively proven that eyes will accept the protein instantly. Then again, that’s exactly what testing is for. Hopefully, some good will come from the procedure.