Four years ago, American scientists identified a chemical that could give a person night vision – by having it dripped directly into the test subject’s eyeballs.
In 2015, a group of independent biochemical researchers in California with Science for the Masses (SfM) – whose motto is, “We’re not missionaries, we’re engineers” – gave volunteer team member Gabriel Licina the ability to see more than 50 meters (164 feet) in the dark for a short period of time.
The biohackers achieved this incredible feat by starting with a simple question: could they enhance healthy eyesight enough to create night vision?
The group studied Chlorin e6 (Ce6), a kind of chemical analog (a compound that has similar physical, chemical, biochemical, or pharmacological properties) for chlorophyll which is used as a photosensitizer in laser-assisted cancer remediation.
Chlorin e6 is found in some deep-sea fish. When applied into the conjunctival sac of the eye, the chemical moves quickly to the retina, which senses light. Ce6 has been shown to treat night blindness and improve the dim-light vision of those with visual disturbances.
The California scientists based their research on a patent for a mixture that absorbs to the retina when applied to the eye and increase vision in low light conditions. The mixture combined Ce6 with Saline and Insulin but noted that dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) could substitute for insulin.
The West Coast bioengineers reasoned that using both insulin and DMSO might be optimal so the mixed Ce6, Saline, Insulin, and DMSO, which they discovered increased the permeability of the mixture, allowing for its more rapid absorption.
The Ce6 used for testing was a fine black powder which clung to every surface. To make it easier to handle, large liquid batches were prepared and then divided into separate storage containers. The liquid produced was thin and black in color.
To administer the Ce6 solution, test subject Licina rested on his back. His eyes were flushed with saline to cleanse away any micro-debris or contaminants from the site.
In a scene out of Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange,” Licina’s eyes were pinned open with a small speculum to prevent blinking, which could force out excess liquid before it could be absorbed.
A micropipette (tiny tube) was used to control drops of the Ce6 liquid, for a total of three doses of 50 microliters into each eye. Researchers noted that the black liquid disappeared due to absorption in a matter of seconds.
“To me, it was a quick, greenish-black blur across my vision, and then it dissolved into my eyes,” said Licina.
After completing the Ce6 solution application, the speculum was removed, and black lenses were placed into the whites (sclera) of each eye to reduce the amount of light entering it.
Night vision testing proceded while Licina wore black sunglasses to ensure increased low light conditions and further reduce the possibility of bright light exposure.
Positive results were seen with as little as one hour. The effects lasted for “many hours” afterward.
After a two-hour period to adjust to the Ce6, Licina and four control subjects were taken to a darkened area where they were tested for symbol recognition by distance, symbol recognition on varying background colors at a static distance, and the ability to identify moving subjects in a varied background at varying distances.
“At first, Licina was able to see hand-sized shapes about 10 meters (33 feet) away. In time, he was able to recognize symbols (like numbers and letters) as well as objects moving against different backgrounds at longer distances,” reported IFL Science.
To measure subject recognition, collaborators hid in a small grove of trees about 25 to 50 yards from an observation point where they attempted to blend into their surroundings. Licina and the four controls were handed a laser pointer and asked to identify the location of the people in the grove.
Licina consistently recognized symbols that the controls could not see. The Ce6 subject identified the distant figures 100 percent of the time! Compare that with the controls who scored only a 33% identification rate.
Researchers found no harmful side effects from the Ce6 drops. By the next morning, the subject’s eyesight returned to normal. Twenty days after the trial, no negative effects had been noticed.
“For us, it comes down to pursuing things that are doable but won’t be pursued by major corporations,” explained Jeffrey Tibbetts, the lab’s medical officer. “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.”
Soon, the human superpower of being able to see in the dark may become a reality using only a vial of Ce6 solution and a small eye dropper.