If this looks familiar, you may have cataracts. 2 new sci-fi fixes could help.

If you saw these pictures in a gallery, you might think the glass was smudged.

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. Original image by David Hiser/Wikimedia Commons.


The right sides of these pictures are all blurry and kind of grey.

"Napoleon Crossing the Alps" by Jacque-Louis David. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

You'd obviously want to get someone to clean it up!

But what if the smudge was inside your eye?

Inside your eyes are natural lenses, like the lens of a camera. The lens focuses light onto the back of our eyes, where specialized cells interpret the image and send that information to the brain. Because all the light we see has to go through the lens, our bodies naturally make it transparent.

Sometimes, however, proteins in the lens start to clump together, forming a small cloudy area that destroys that carefully constructed lens transparency, like replacing a camera lens with a piece of frosted glass. This cloud is what's known as a cataract, and over time, it can spread to cover the entire lens in the eye.

Congenital cataracts. Image from National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health/Flickr.

When this happens, cataracts cause our vision to become blurry and washed out. They can also make light glare really bad and give some people double vision.

More than 22 million Americans over 40 already have cataracts. By the time we turn 80, most of us will have them in some form.

Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the world and mostly happen to people as we age. They can also be found in children and younger adults due to congenital conditions, injury, or illness. About one in every 250 kids is born with or develops cataracts at young age.

Treatments for cataracts do exist. The current solution generally either involves stronger glasses or, if the vision loss is bad enough, surgery to replace an old, cloudy lens with a transparent plastic one.

A young person in Bali recovers from cataract surgery. Image from Agung Parameswara/Getty Images.

But cataract surgery does sometimes come with complications, and some types of the plastic replacement lenses sacrifice the flexibility of our biological lenses — they have trouble focusing on nearby stuff, for instance, and don't work super well in children.

Cataract surgery might be about to get a neat sci-fi upgrade thanks to new research involving stem cells.

Stem cells are a special kind of cells found in our bodies that can transform themselves into different types of cells (like eye cells or brain cells or kidney cells).

They've been a hot area of research, from anti-aging ideas to straight-up regenerating limbs.

Stem cells magnified on a computer screen. Image by Spencer Platt/Staff/Getty.

Two groups of researchers recently published studies investigating if stem cells could help re-grow biological lenses.

One group of researchers in Japan and the U.K. recently used human stem cells to grow cells from many different parts of the eye.

The scientists took human stem cells and coaxed them into transforming into eye tissue. They found that they could successfully make the cells divide into different layers as they grew.

Image from NPG Press/YouTube.

What's cool is that each layer corresponded with a different part of the eye. Cells from the first layer, for example, could potentially become part of the nerve-rich tissue at the back of the eye while cells from between the second and third layers could become the lens, and cells from layers 3 and 4 could become parts of the cornea.

The researchers were even able to successfully transplant the new stem-cell-grown corneas into rabbits. This technique could one day help doctors replace many different parts of people's eyes as they become damaged, although a lot of work needs to be done before we see any tests in humans.

Another research group, meanwhile, experimented with a surgical technique designed to help children regrow new lenses.

The technique is deceptively elegant because it doesn't require any new technology, just a twist on existing techniques.

“This is just a change in a surgical procedure,” said James Funderburgh, a cell biologist at the University of Pittsburgh in a Nature press release. “They are not putting in an artificial lens: they are just letting the lens regrow.”

In this new technique, the surgeons use a smaller-than-normal incision to remove the patient's cloudy lens but don't implant a plastic one afterwards. That's because after the lens is removed, some stem cells are naturally left behind in the patient's eye, and it turns out that, by leaving them alone, the body can use those stem cells to grow a brand new lens.

This technique is slower than traditional methods because the child's eye needs about three months to grow a new lens. But the benefit is that the lens won't grow cloudy over time, like some artificial ones do, and the surgery has a much lower rate of complications.

Sunglasses help protect these kids' eyes a few days after cataract surgery. Image from Chris Jackson/Getty Images.

In fact, this technique was so successful, they've even used it on 12 human babies. It's been two years since some of them had the procedure done, and so far, the results seem promising. While this particular technique may not be as useful for older adults (whose cells grow more slowly), it could restore sight to a lot of young people.

“Even if it’s only for kids, it’s fantastic,” said Funderburgh.

Cataracts are one of the most common vision problems in the world, but these cool new tools could help those living with them see the world a whole lot more clearly.

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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