Have we cured colour blindness? Scientist ‘accidentally’ creates glasses that allow people to see full spectrum
- Lenses originally developed to help medics locate veins and bruising
- Tests showed they could also help colour blind distinguish red and green
- However they hamper perception of blues and yellows
By Damien Gayle
PUBLISHED: 09:52 EST, 7 February 2013 | UPDATED: 10:05 EST, 7 February 2013
The problems faced by colour blindness sufferers could be solved thanks to new glasses that can allow them to see the full spectrum for the first time, it was claimed today.
Around 8 per cent of men and a smaller number of women suffer from ‘red-green deficiency’, a genetic abnormality that restricts them from seeing some reds and greens.
But the new lenses, which were originally intended to help medics locate veins and bruising more easily, can help sufferers beat the disability and distinguish colours they were formerly unable to.
The invention by U.S. research institute 2AI Labs builds on research by cognitive scientist Mark Changizi, a specialist in evolutionary neurobiology.
He suggested in 2006 that humans developed the ability to observe subtle changes in skin colour, like blushes, to detect social cues and work out the emotions of peers.
But 2AI’s labs glasses were not intended to restore this function in those deficient of it, but rather to help doctors and nurses detect ‘oxygenated blood’ in the skin.
It was hoped that the glasses could used to help medics see bruising that was not immediately visible and find veins before taking blood.
But in tests the lenses – dubbed Oxy-Iso – was shown to help the colour blind distinguish parts of the spectrum they were previously unable to.
On his blog, Professor Changizi said: ‘Although we didn’t design our technology with colour-deficients specifically in mind, we weren’t too surprised that the Oxy-Iso may help with with red-green colour-deficiency.
WHAT IS COLOUR BLINDNESS?
Colour blindness affects around 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women in the world.
In Britain this means that there are approximately 2.7million colour blind people (about 4.5 per cent of the entire population), most of whom are male.
There are different causes of colour blindness.
For the vast majority of people with deficient colour vision the condition is genetic and has been inherited from their mother.
However some people become colour blind as a result of other diseases such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis or they acquire the condition over time due to the ageing process or medication side effects.
Most colour blind people are able to see things as clearly as other people but they unable to fully ‘see’ red, green or blue light.
There are different types of colour blindness and there are extremely rare cases where people are unable to see any colour at all.
‘As I have argued in my research and my earlier book, Vision Revolution, our human variety of color vision evolved — above and beyond that found in other mammals — in order to sense these oxygenation variations, allowing us to sense colour-signals on the skin (including blushes, blanches, as well as sensing health).
‘So the Oxy-Iso filter concentrates its enhancement exactly where red-green colour-blind folk are deficient.’
Daniel Bor, a researcher from the University of Sussex, said wearing the glasses enabled him to pass the commonly used test for colour blindness, the Ishihara Colour Test, in which patients are shown plates which feature a circle of dots.
Colour blindness sufferers are not able to make out numbers shown made up of dots of a different colour.
‘When I first put one of them on, I got a shiver of excitement at how vibrant and red lips, clothes and other objects around me seemed,’ Mr Bor said.
The glasses are already available. However, while they enhance perception of reds and greens, they hamper the ability to distinguish yellows and blues.