The blind can see and the deaf can hear
New technologies open up the world for previously disabled
Millions of people around the globe suffer from deafness and blindness – but that will soon end; and when it comes to helping the deaf, we have to thank Siri, Apple’s digital assistant!
Early experiments showed that transplanting stem cells into the eyes of rats with damaged retinas cured blindness. Now scientists are using the same technology to repair diseases which commonly cause deteriorating sight in humans, namely glaucoma, retinal detachment and macular degeneration.
In fact, thanks to CRISPR gene-editing tools, doctors can even repair and prevent eye damage in utero – before babies are born.
Coupled with advances in bionic retinas, which amplify light, and new surgery techniques to replace the jellylike tissue behind the lens of the eye with a saline solution, the dream of ending blindness is finally in reach.
Scientists are even working on projecting images directly into the brain, bypassing the eyes. Science fiction at the moment, but watch this space!
As for deafness, cochlear implants have helped many of the estimated 360 million people who suffer hearing impairment. Previously this required a bulky remote control. Now, thanks to a partnership with Apple, using the same technology that powers Siri, users can get sound – phone calls, music, podcasts, movie soundtracks and more – routed directly into their skulls.
Similar stem cell transplants that have revolutionized treatments for blindness have also been shown to work on deafness in animal tests, and are now being rolled out to humans with great success.
The cost of these treatments is quickly falling in the new world of shared technologies and cheap computing. Blindness and deafness will soon be a thing of the past.
Warning: Hazardous thinking at work
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