Eye drops that grant night vision may sound like the stuff of fiction, but a small group of independent scientists in Tehachapi, California may have proven it possible.
Science for the Masses, a self-styled “citizen science” organization that “operates independently of any university, college, and government,” theorized that Chlorin e6 (Ce6), a natural molecule that can be made from algae and other green plans, could enhance eyesight in dark environments. Ce6 forms the basis of some cancer treatment therapies and has been prescribed for night blindness, but after reviewing the literature, team members thought Ce6’s photosensitizing properties made it a promising candidate for less conventional applications. “There are a fair amount of papers talking about having it injected in models like rats,” Jeffrey Tibbetts, the lab’s medical officer, told Mic. “After doing the research, you have to take the next step.”
The next step, apparently, was moistening biochemical researcher Gabriel Licina’s eyes with a tiny dropper. Tibbetts administered 50 microliters of Ce6 to Licina’s conjunctival sack (the space between the eyelids and the eyeball). The effect was nearly instant – after an hour, Licina could distinguish shapes from 10 meters (about 33 feet) away in the dark, and soon even further distances. “We had people go stand in the woods,” Licina said. “At 50 meters (or 164 feet), we could figure out where they were, even if they were standing up against a tree.”
The effect was only temporary — it lasted “hours” afterward and eyesight returned to normal the day after, but the results were impressive. The control group without Ce6 was only able to pick out the objects a third of the time, while Licina’s success rate was 100%.
The possible applications of night vision-enhancing drops are too numerous to list. Firefighters could augment their vision before plunging into a burning building, and watermain repairmen could use the drops to supplement flashlights.
True to Science for the Masses’ democratic mission, the organization released a paper detailing the experiment on their website. They concede that more research needs to be conducted, including the long-term effects of Ce6 on vision. To that end, they lay out a less subjective testing methodology using labratory equipment to measure the electrical simulation in the eye.
For Tibbetts, though, the procedure was a triumph in and of itself. “For us, it comes down to pursuing thing that are doable but won’t be pursued by major corporations,” Tibbetts said. “There are rules to be followed and don’t go crazy, but sience isn’t a mystical language that only a few elite people can speak.”