GIVING RAINBOW VISION TO COLOR BLIND PEOPLE

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By Miriam Raftery

July 21, 2015 (San Diego’s East County)—Over 300 million people worldwide are color-blind. But now, scientific advances have made it possible for the vast majority of those to see vibrant colors using special glasses—and a cure is also in the works for even the most severe forms or color blindness.

Special glasses created by Enchroma Labs can enable 80% of people with color blindness to see a rainbow range of colors.  The glasses are the result of a decade of testing funding by the National Institute of Health (NIH).

You can choose from glasses that look like normal indoor glasses or sunglasses, available in a range of styles from chic to sporty, for adults and kids. Prices range from about $325 to $475. Some insurance policies will cover the cost, for those who need prescription lenses and have vision care coverage.

The company has a money-back guarantee and an online vision test to help you find out if you have a form of color blindness that can be helped.  http://enchroma.com/

Enchroma’s glasses won’t help people who are totally colorblind, seeing only shades of black, white and grey, or those with extreme cases. But for the vast majority who can see some colors but not others, the results can be dramatic. Many with red-green color blindness have reported that they can now distinguish between the hues, which formerly appeared as shades of yellow.

New York Times columnist David Pogue, who has red-green color blindness, wrote, “The highlight came on Day 4 of my tests, when my kids discovered a rainbow arcing across the sky, pointing and exclaiming. I looked. With my own eyes, I could barely see it. Maybe there was a soft arc of yellow, but that was it. Then I put on the glasses. Unbelievable! Now I saw two entire additional color bands, above and below the yellow arc. It was suddenly a complete rainbow.”

He added, “I don’t mind admitting, I felt a surge of emotion. It was like a peek into a world I knew existed, but had never been allowed to see.”

The glasses work using special filters to enhance perception of reds, greens and blues, or to be technical, restoring the spectral separation between cones using a narrow-band notch filter.

The discovery was actually a delightful accident, Smithsonian magazine reports.

Don McPherson,   a scientist with a PhD in glass science, had initially created eyewear for surgeons. The glasses contained a rare earth iron that enabled the doctors to distinguish more easily between blood and tissue, also providing protection.  But surgeons started swiping the glasses to use outside the hospital, enjoying the enhanced vibrancy of the colors they could see.

One day while playing Frisbee and wearing the special glasses, McPherson had a friend ask to try them on. The friend, who has been colorblind since birth, was stunned to discover he could see orange for the first time, where before orange tree hues had been indistinguishable from the color of green grass.

McPherson spent a decade researching colorblindness and ways to help the condition, with funding from the NIH.  He launched Enchroma, a Berkeley-based business, with two co-founders, Tony Dykes and Andy Schmeder in 2012. The first products were glass sunglasses.  In 2014 they came out with a polycarbonate version. The latest addition, in March 2015, is indoor glass wear.

The glasses are sold online and through a handful of retailers. Thus far, there are no retail outlets in San Diego, though there is a optometry retailer listed in Costa Mesa, CA where customers can try on glasses, by appointment.

What about the 20% of color blind people who can’t be helped by Enchroma? 

There’s hope for them, too, thanks to gene therapy advances and recently, Journal of Nature reportsw the first successful cure in two squirrel monkeys. The technique replaces color-producing proteins that are missing in the eye cones of those who are color blind.

Next up, researchers hope to win permission for human trials from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. The University of Washington researchers are teaming up with a California biotech company, Avalanche Biotechnologies, working to develop a shot delivered to the eye that if proven successful in human trials, could someday cure color blindness completely.

 


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