Imagine you could gain the ability to see in the dark using a special kind of eye drop.
It could be fun for anyone taking a night hike, and critically helpful for rescue teams or people working in dangerous environments at night.
Enhanced night vision might be more than a cool idea. An experiment performed a group of California biohackers shows it might be possible already — though they caution that they did this for research purposes and don’t know if the eyedrops they created are necessarily safe, especially in the long term. Something that allows more light into your eyes could cause cellular damage.
Don’t try this at home, in other words.
The group of independent researchers, Science for the Masses, decided to use a chemical that’s used to treat night blindness, a condition that makes it hard for people to see in dim light, to try and enhance low-light vision in healthy people.
They devised a solution made of the chemical chlorin e6 (Ce6), insulin, and dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO). Ce6 is a natural molecule that’s the key to light amplification here — it’s the chemical used to treat night blindness, and it’s also used in some cancer treatments. It can be found in deep sea fish and also made from algae and other plants. The insulin and DMSO both help the eye absorb the Ce6.
The group tested the thin black liquid solution on Gabriel Licina, a biochemistry researcher who is part of the core Science for the Masses team. In the paper they wrote about the experiment, they say they pinned his eyes open so the solution would have time to absorb — the black color from the liquid disappeared after a few seconds, though they afterwords put black lenses on his eyes to protect them from surrounding light until the test.
Within an hour, Licina told Mic, he could identify shapes the size of a hand 10 meters (33 feet) away in the dark. He and four controls (people who hadn’t been dosed with the solution) then spread out in the woods, up to 50 meters apart — he could identify each person with 100% accuracy, while the others could only do so one-third of the time.
The next morning, his vision was back to normal and 20 days later there have been no noticeable side effects.
Subjectively, they write, this night-vision-enhancing solution worked. Crazy as it may sound, similar solutions have been shown to be effective in mice.
In this case, it’s just a test of one person’s subjective account. It requires much more research to demonstrate its effectiveness as well as its safety. It’s far too soon to say whether this would work for others or if it’s safe.
Science for the Masses does plan on doing follow-up studies that will measure vision with lab equipment and test electrical stimulation in each eye, providing more data.
But even showing people this much is possible is a success for the group, who wants to make science more accessible in general. As the lab’s medical officer, Jeffrey Tibbetts, told Mic, “For us, it comes down to pursuing things that are doable but won’t be pursued by major corporations.” He adds: “There are rules to be followed and don’t go crazy, but science isn’t a mystical language that only a few elite people can speak.”