The team from California-based Science for the Masses (SfM) utilized a compound called Chlorin e6 (or Ce6), which is found in some deep-sea fish. It’s also occasionally used to treat night blindness and even cancer. Previous studies have injected the chemical as a photosensitizer into animal models. “After doing the research, you have to take the next step,” says Jeffrey Tibbetts, SfM's medical officer. So SfM’s biochem researcher Gabriel Licina agreed to become a human lab rat.
First, Licina’s eyes were flushed clean and his eyelids were stretched out with a speculum (no blinking!). Then Tibbetts used a pipette to drop 50 microliters of a blackish solution—Ce6 mixed with saline, insulin, and dimethlysulfoxide (DMSO)—into his eyes. Specifically, he was aiming for the conjunctival sac, which should help carry the compound to the light-sensing retina. DMSO increased the permeability of the cells for better absorption. "To me, it was a quick, greenish-black blur across my vision, and then it dissolved into my eyes,"Licina tells Mic. He then put protective lenses in his eyes to block out some light; sunglasses helped too.
After two hours, the team tested Licinia's newfound superpower in a dark field. At first, Licina was able to see hand-sized shapes about 10 meters (33 feet) away. In time, he was able to recognize symbols (like numbers and letters) as well as objects moving against different backgrounds at longer distances.
In one test, he had to indicate where people were located in a grove of trees 50 meters away using a laser pointer. He got it right every time, even when the subjects were standing up against a tree or shrub. The four people in the control group were successful about a third of the time.
By the next morning, his eyesight seemed to have returned to normal. So far, there have been no noticeable effects. The full report about their experiment is available online.
Images: shutterstock.com (top), Science for the Masses (middle)