Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Stem Cell Superpowers....,

Sign me up for a pair of Zeiss-Ikon nightvision joints....,

The work on stem cell therapies in the eye is mostly clinical and offers hope for those with severe eye damage, blindness, macular degeneration, cataracts, and more. But why stop there? Scientists such as Jay and Maureen Neitz at the Medical College of Wisconsin have been experimenting to see the effects of giving humans the ability to see different amounts of color when looking around the world, from dichromatic to tetrachromatic vision to even infrared.

Imagine eyes that are even better in terms of mechanics or aesthetics than the best endowed pilot, sharpshooter, or actor. How far from therapy for cataracts is the use of a gene for night vision? Scientifically, perhaps not far, but what about ethically?

The answer hangs on how you view enhancement. Literally. There are those who oppose the improvement of human nature on the grounds that we ought not to play God, or engage in risky research with no clinical benefit. But we are a society that enhances vision all the time with optical devices, ranging from night-vision goggles to colored contact lenses. I find it difficult to believe that building these changes into the eye itself would be morally more problematic.

If such technologies are available, and the implantation and maintenance of "eyes from the dish" is safe and effective, I would argue we should not draw an arbitrary line between enhancement for eyes versus enhancement for any other aesthetic feature on the body (such as noses or breasts).

Each of us may well have to decide just how far we are willing to go in terms of enhancing our perception. But the vision of better vision is coming to fruition. I'd keep an eye on it.