Imagine waking to a bright, sunny day, but not really being able to see. Some people go their whole lives without witnessing that vivid red ball from their youth or the facial features of a loved one. Kristina Narfström, a veterinary ophthalmologist at the University of Missouri, is doing research that promises to provide some light at the end of the tunnel.
Take a good, hard mental image of a long line of people stretched for blocks. If you expand the line to roughly 100,000, this is the number of people waiting for an organ transplant. The imbalanced patient-to-organ ratio leaves many to die while waiting their turn. In response, some researchers try to tap into animal organs to save human lives, but those organs do not always work.
Research in the University of Missouri’s Division of Animal Sciences may help solve this medical debacle by using genetic modification. When an organ goes from one animal to another (like to a human), preexisting antibodies in the human bind to the organ’s sugar molecules and kill the organ, making it useless. “When you take a pig cell and transfer it to a human, the molecule is immediately recognized as foreign,” explains MU’s Animal Science Professor, Randall Prather. “Within minutes you’ll get hyperacute rejection, and the cells will be destroyed.”
Narfström discusses various treatment measures for blindness. The prevention of photoreceptor death, she says, can be treated with different proteins and vitamins, or new cells may be inserted in the retina to replace the dying cells.
The human eye is a very complex organ. Narfström describes its structure and explains why the retina is the most important part of the eye.
Prather talks about his work with genetic modification. The modified swine are marked by a green florescent glow on their snouts. Such modifications on the pigs could positively impact agriculture and medicine.
One of the paintings Barker was pleasantly surprised to find in the museum’s collection is a self-portrait by the Romanian surrealist Victor Brauner. Dating from 1923, the painting reflects the period immediately before the artist moved fully into surrealism as a means of representation. “It is a remarkable portrait,” explains Barker, “because it is the last time he paints himself with both eyes.” In his subsequent work, that is, the artist always paints himself with one eye missing—whether there is a gaping wound, an automaton of some kind, or his eyes placed on his hands. In 1938, Brauner was in a bar fight, during which his eye was poked out—the very eye he had been painting himself without for a decade and a half. Barker says, “Surrealism holds it up as an example of sort of a premonitory knowledge that this was going to happen, proof that time is not linear to the unconscious mind.”