A treatment being tested for adults with lazy eye, a condition that can become a lifelong affliction if not addressed in childhood, relies on total darkness. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
Scientist and professor of vision sciences at SUNY College of Optometry Benjamin Backus believes darkness holds the key to treating adults with lazy eye, known to doctors as amblyopia.
"This study really got its start with a scientist from the University of Maryland named Betsy Quinlan and she had done experiments on animals showing that an adult animal can be treated and have its visual system largely improved, if you keep the animal in the dark for three to 10 days," he explains.
Backus hopes full immersion into darkness will have the same effect on people. Research he and others have conducted shows the brain's visual system can be reprogrammed. So his team is looking for people with lazy eye willing to live in total darkness for 10 days.
"What we're gonna do, we hope, is by putting people in the dark is deprive the visual neurons, which are in the back of the head, their input for five to 10 days and when you do that they start looking around for how can I re-wire myself," explains Backus.
To test the logistics Backus and project coordinator Morgan Williams lived in the dark for five days.
"We came up with a few techniques. Ben likes to say we're going to serve ravioli not spaghetti because it's really trial and error," says Williams.
They're looking for people who have pretty good vision in one eye, but need significant correction in the other.
"For example they might have normal vision or be nearsighted or a little farsighted in one eye and much more farsighted in the other eye so that when they were a child this eye was blurry and that caused the brain to not learn well how to use this eye," explains Backus.
The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health. Participants will live in a blacked-out house in Brooklyn, under the watch of researchers.
"The people who do this, they're gonna have to be interested in the scientific question because we truly don’t know whether it will have an effect on their vision," says Backus.
Backus is calling study participants scotonauts, or explorers of the dark.
For more information, visit projectluma.org.