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Wednesday, 10 July, 2002, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Nasa laser could reverse blindness
The LEDs were developed to aid astronauts
Patients with eye diseases and injuries could soon benefit from a treatment designed to help injured astronauts.

Doctors in the US believe powerful light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which work along the same lines as laser treatment, could be used to fight blindness.

The LEDs were originally developed by Nasa in the 1990s in the hope that they could be used to treat astronauts injured in space, where injuries heal more slowly.

But laboratory tests have shown that the technique may also have a role in treating people at risk of going blind.

Reversed blindness

Dr Harry Whelan and colleagues at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee tested the LEDs on rats.

The rats were blinded with high doses of methanol which damaged the retinal cells and optic nerves in the eye.

Their eyes were then targeted with the LEDs at three different intervals over the course of three days.

The rats recovered 95% of their sight. Their retinas were also indistinguishable from those of normal rats.

Dr Whelan said the LEDs appeared to have reversed damage to the eyes. Without the treatment, the rats would have gone blind within two days.

"There was some tissue regeneration and neurons," he told New Scientist magazine.

The researchers believe the LEDs could provide an alternative to laser treatment. It could also be used on people who are at risk of losing their sight quickly or whose sight has been damaged by light.

However, the study is still in its early stages and the researchers have yet to identify exactly how the LEDs stimulate healing.

Their findings will be published shortly in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cancer patients

The LEDs have already been shown to be effective in treating patients with mucositis - a side effect of cancer chemotherapy, which leads to painful sores in the mouth and throat and can prevent patients from eating or drinking.

The US Food and Drug Administration recently approved further trials of the treatment in cancer patients, using LEDs donated by Nasa.

See also:

28 Nov 01 | Health
24 Aug 00 | Health
13 Jun 02 | Health
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