Imagine not knowing whether the traffic light is red or green, what color your socks are, or whether your outfit for your job interview really matches.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, about eight percent of men and about 0.5 percent of women in the United States are colorblind.
Being colorblind is an inherited deficiency in the ability to see one or more colors (usually red or green).
Many have found ways to circumvent these daily challenges, usually by asking someone else to verify colors for them. Still, there’s no denying that being colorblind presents unique difficulties in the everyday lives of people affected.
Special contact lenses and glasses are available, but these are expensive, costing up to $700. Thanks to mobile technology, there’s a cheaper solution – several apps have been developed to assist colorblind people. One such app is DanKam, an “augmented-reality” app which adjusts colors through the iPhone’s camera to allow colorblind people to see them more accurately.
These apps are helpful, but genetic technology promises to really improve the lives of people afflicted with colorblindness. Genevolve Vision Diagnostics has developed a genetic test that can determine the specific deficiencies in a person’s color vision. This test will soon be available, hopefully leading to customized vision aids. And researchers at the University of Washington are poised to deliver a genetic cure – perhaps in the near future.
In 2009, vision scientist Jay Neitz and his colleagues restored trichromatic vision in red-green colorblind adult squirrel monkeys. These monkeys were deficient in L-opsin, a type of retinal cone pigment. The researchers used recombinant viruses to deliver the L-opsin gene to these monkeys via subretinal injections. Four years later, the monkeys can still identify colors accurately.
The scientists are currently working on gene therapy for humans, which could have a significant impact on the colorblind community, especially if it results in a permanent cure. Apps are terrific tools, but it’s not always convenient or feasible to view the world through the lens of an iPhone.