Humans with "supervision" could be on the horizon

Katie Ramirez
March 4, 2019

The particles clung on to photoreceptor cells in the mice's eyes, allowing them to turn near-infrared light into visible rays. Seeing in infrared light essentially allows the subject to see heat sources and would allow soldiers to take on unsafe missions at night WITHOUT the need of night vision googles. The nanoparticles remain in the eyes for up to two months without any obvious negative effects, and while they're not ready to go poking needles in human eyes just yet, the day might not be far off.

Because the new technology is compatible with regular vision, it could provide a new way for mammalian vision enhancement or even open up new avenues to fix normal vision - you could tinker with the nanoparticles so they parse different wavelengths or alter them enough that they deliver drugs into the eye.

The nanoparticles can be attached to the photoreceptor cells while acting like tiny transducers of infrared radiation. "Endowing mammals with [near-infrared] vision capacity could also pave the way for critical civilian and military applications", the researchers wrote in the paper.

Humans and other mammals are limited to seeing a range of wavelengths known as visible light, which includes those of the rainbow. In an experiment, the mice were able to navigate a series of maze tasks - which they normal-vision peers could not - showing that they could simultaneously sense both infrared and visible light.

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Led by scientists Tian Xue and Jin Bao at the University of Science and Technology in China, along with Gang Han at the University of Massachusetts Medical school, the study was recently published in Cell magazine. The nanoparticles used in this study only pick up a very specific infrared wavelength - anything outside this would remain invisible. "We believe this technology will also work in human eyes, not only for generating super vision but also for therapeutic solutions in human red colour vision deficits", said Dr Xue. Because wavelengths that were too long had now been morphed into something more digestible, to the brain, it was as if the retina had been hit by visible light.

Researchers found that those critters receiving injections showed unconscious physical signs of infrared light detection (like pupils constricting), while the control group didn't respond.

"We have shown that both rods and cones bind these nanoparticles and were activated by the near infrared light", Xue said. Although there was a minor side effect (a cloudy cornea), it disappeared within less than a week.

This may have been caused by the injection process alone because mice that only received injections of the dummy solution had a similar rate of these minor problems. Other tests found no damage to the retina's structure following the injections. Humans use more cones than rods in their central vision compared to mice, so that the emission spectrum could be tuned to be appropriate for human eyes.

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