In my novel, Thirty, people conveniently have night vision that they can switch on and off. Night vision goggles have been around since the 1930s but now a biohacker named Gabriel Licina has made eye drops that let him see in the dark.
The eye drops contain Chlorin e6 (Ce6), a light sensitive chemical that comes from deep sea animals and has been used as a light-sensitiser in laser cancer treatment.
So Licina decided to see what would happen if he used Ce6 in his healthy eyes – could it improve his night vision? I can almost hear you asking ‘What sort of crazy person puts an untested chemical into their eyes?’ He based this decision on a number of research papers using Ce6 in mice and two patents to use Ce6 as a light-sensitiser in humans to treat conditions such as night blindness. Still this sort of experiment comes with significant risk and should not be repeated outside of the lab.
A collaborator put liquid comprising Ce6, insulin, a chemical called dimethlysulfoxide (DMSO) and saline into Licina’s eyes. DMSO and saline both work to make it easier for eye cells to absorb other chemicals. He then wore dark glasses to protect his eyes against any ambient light and waited for two hours for his eyes to adjust. Then his vision was tested in the dark and compared with how well four control people who had not been treated could see in the dark. Licina could see numbers and letters the size of his hand as far away as 50 metres. The control people could not make out these numbers or letters. He could also see people standing 50 metres away 100% of the time, whereas the controls could only make out the people 33% of the time.
After the experiment, Licina wore dark glasses until he slept that night. He had no vision problems when he woke up the next morning and has since reported no problems with his sight.
This experiment shows that Ce6 might be a useful way to improve humans’ poor night vision. However, much more testing needs to be done to come up with a safe formulation. The main concern is that if a person used Ce6 eye drops and then were exposed to bright light, the Ce6 could cause irreversible damage and even death of the cells of the eye.
This experiment also highlights the growing field of biohacking. Many professional scientists and science aficionados are now banding together to perform scientific experiments outside of traditional labs. There are community labs popping up all over the world where anyone can rent cheap lab space and use shared equipment to perform experiments. Biohackers don’t have the constraints of scientists who work in academia or big pharma. They can research anything they want.
Licina’s review of this experiment with his references is here: