'Cure' for blindness discovered in
                                By Lorraine Fraser and Martin Halle
                                (Filed: 14/10/2001)

                                SPINACH, the vegetable loved by Popeye, could
                                prove to be a cure for certain forms of blindness.

                                Doctors now believe that an eye-drop containing a
                                protein taken from spinach could be soon available
                                to treat the millions of people suffering from
                                age-related macular degeneration of the eye and
                                retina pigmentosis.

                                Age-related macular degeneration is a common eye
                                disease associated with ageing that gradually
                                destroys sharp central vision.

                                The macula is made up of millions of light-sensing
                                cells in the middle of the retina. When these cells
                                degenerate, vision is impaired and if the disease
                                progresses quickly, blindness follows.

                                Retina pigmentosis is a genetic disease which
                                affects about one person in 4,000. Sufferers develop
                                night blindness, then tunnel vision and finally loose
                                their colour and day vision. In the Western world it
                                is the most common cause of blindness in people
                                under the age of 70. The cause is unknown.

                                Scientists working for the US government discovered
                                that the protein, known as Photosystem One, was
                                able to generate electrical energy. That energy can
                                trigger light-receiving cells to function, enabling the
                                retina to "see" images again.

                                A team of surgeons working at the Doheny Eye
                                Institute at the University of Southern California with
                                Dr Eli Greenbaum, of the Oak Ridge National
                                Laboratory, has already established that
                                light-receiving cells in the eyes of the blind can be
                                triggered to work again.

                                When pinhead electrodes were implanted in blind
                                people they were able to see images and patterns.
                                Now the Doheny team believes that the spinach
                                protein is capable of setting off a chemical reaction
                                which will stimulate the eye cells.

                                Dr Greenbaum said: "We have found that the
                                protein from the spinach is able to make up to one
                                volt and sustain that over a long period."

                                "Although the neural wiring from the eye to the
                                brain is intact in diseases such as macular
                                degeneration, the cells at the front of their eyes lack
                                photo-receptor activity to transmit the information
                                that makes images."

                                He added: "We believe that Photosystem One can
                                start that process again. We have established the
                                mechanism that could help so many people who are
                                blind or semi-blind to see again."

                                Dr Greenbaum is planning experiments with rats and
                                mice next year and, if successful, human clinical trials
                                in about two years.

                                 13 October 2001: The spread of blindness 'is reduced by