Electric currents may be used to treat one form of blindness

A group of scientists have demonstrated that electric currents can be used to treat a form of blindness previously thought irreversible.

The Germany-based researchers showed that treating certain patients through electrodes near the eyes with low levels of ‘repetitive, transorbital alternating current stimulation’ (rtACS) for 10 days (30–40 min per day) significantly reduced visual impairment.

‘We have shown for the first time that partial blindness can be reduced by a short-lasting therapeutic procedure using non-invasive electrical current stimulation,’ said Dr Bernhard Sabel, researcher and senior author of the study published in the journal Brain Stimulation.

The study incorporated 42 patients who are blind as a result of optic nerve damage, which followed as the result of a brain lesion.

The electric current treatment was assigned to a random sample of patients within the group and compared against the remainder of the sample who received a surgical treatment that attempted to mimic the effects of applying the electric current.

Results showed that treatment with rtACS resulted in an average of 41 per cent shrinkage of the visual field loss and improved ‘general vision’, whereas those in the other group had largely unchanged vision.

A clinical trial with larger patient groups is currently underway to replicate these findings.