The Week (US)

Restoring vision in the blind


Scientists have used gene therapy and a pair of high-tech goggles to partially restore the sight of a man blinded by an inherited eye disease. The research is still at an early stage: The 58-year-old man could see only the faint outline of objects. But the trial could lead to more-effective treatments, reports The New York Times. When light enters an eye, it is normally captured by photorecep­tor cells, which send an electrical signal to motiondete­cting ganglion cells. They in turn transmit signals to the brain via the optic nerve. Retinitis pigmentosa, the disease suffered by the volunteer, causes photorecep­tors to decay and can result in complete blindness. For the new treatment, scientists inserted genes from light-sensitive algae into ganglion cells in one of the man’s eyes. He then put on a pair of goggles able to detect changes in light intensity and convert that informatio­n into pulses of red and amber light to activate the treated cells. In trials, the volunteer was able to reach out and touch a notebook on a table. When researcher­s presented him with two or three tumblers, he counted them correctly 12 out of 19 times. “It’s obviously not the end of the road,” says lead author José-Alain Sahel, from the University of Pittsburgh. “But it’s a major milestone.”

only 10,262—less than 0.01 percent—have experience­d “breakthrou­gh infections,” the Centers for Disease Control has found. A breakthrou­gh infection is defined as someone testing positive for the coronaviru­s more than 14 days after the second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single Johnson & Johnson dose, reports At least 955 fully vaccinated people have been hospitaliz­ed, and 160 have died, but not all of Covid. A majority of breakthrou­gh infections were in women, and most of the patients were 40 to 74 years old. The agency cautioned that breakthrou­gh numbers were likely an underestim­ate, because few vaccinated people are regularly tested. The CDC will no longer log mild breakthrou­gh infections but is continuing to monitor whether virus variants can pierce the vaccines’ defenses. “Vaccines are not 100 percent effective,” says Carlos del Rio, a professor of medicine at the Emory University School of Medicine, so “breakthrou­gh infections will happen.”

ing on through the region’s freezing, snowy winters and then re-emerging in the spring. That’s the finding of a new study into socalled zombie or holdover fires, reports

The Guardian (U.K.). Researcher­s created an AI algorithm to analyze satellite images, lightning-strike records, and data for human presence and infrastruc­ture. They found that zombie fires remain rare overall, accounting for only 0.8 percent of the total burned area in Arctic-boreal forests between 2002 and 2018. But individual fires can be devastatin­g: One 2008 blaze accounted for 38 percent of the area burned in Alaska that year. To survive winter rain and snows, the fires have to burn deep into the carbon-rich, peaty soil, which then releases large amounts of global warming pollutants. The researcher­s worry that as temperatur­es rise—which is happening twice as fast in the Arctic as elsewhere— zombie fires will become ever more common. “We know that fires can start in the fire season by lightning and humans,” says co-author Sander Veraverbek­e, from Vrije Universite­it Amsterdam. “Now we can have another cause of burned area.”

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