Saturday, August 27, 2016

Wisdom Of The Week

The eye is also tough. Within the eye’s spherical refuge, the immune system restrains itself in a way that makes the eye “immune privileged,” tolerant of invaders that might cause troublesome inflammation in other organs. This means you can more safely try a remedy in the eye, such as gene therapy, that might wreak havoc elsewhere.

Neuroscientists love the eye because “it’s the only place you see the brain without drilling a hole,” as one put it to me. The retina, visible through the pupil, is basically a bowl of neurons tied to the brain by the optic nerve; the eye as a whole is an “outpouching of the brain,” formed during fetal development by stretching away from it. Like the eye, the brain enjoys immune privilege, so treatments that work in the eye may readily transfer to the brain or spinal cord.

These advantages take on extra importance because experimental strategies now focused on the eye may drive future treatments for the whole human organism. Gene therapy offers the promise of fixing faulty genes that cause illnesses of all kinds. Stem cells offer the promise of replacing entire tissue structures; bionic implants may replace failing organs. The eye is becoming a window not just to the soul, but also to the possibilities—and limits—of therapeutic approaches on which medicine is betting its future.

- Why There’s New Hope About Ending Blindness

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