One of the most dreaded misfortunes that anyone could suffer is the loss of their sight. I know I couldn’t imagine life without being able to see the world around me. When I read recently about a startup that could possibly be in the beginning process to cure some forms of blindness, I immediately took an interest in what this company was trying to do.
The company is called Retrosense Therapeutics and is located in the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The experimental therapy involves what is called optogenetics in the hopes of treating those who are suffering from retinal degenerative disease. Patients who suffer from this disease experience both progressive and irreversible vision loss. The new therapy, if approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, could also help those who suffer from macular degeneration, which blinds over one million people here in the US.
The process itself involves the injection of a non-disease causing virus, which carries genetic information. This, in turn, stimulates the ganglion cells with proteins needed to increase light sensitivity. Thus far, experiments with rodents have shown promise and have restored some vision. The treatment appears to be safe for non-human primates who have also been tested.
What is at stake is the hope that the treatments will be able to restore functional vision to patients. What isn’t known, until the trials begin, is to what extent vision will be restored. Using rodents, the results have been very encouraging, with the hope that human subjects will respond similarly.
The injection is a one-time process and is normally carried out for a patient in the outpatient section of a hospital. Once the injection is complete, the gene enters into the retinal cell and begins to produce light-sensitive proteins. Vision can improve in as little as two weeks for some patients, while the normal process could take up to eight weeks or more. The other hope is that this will be a lifelong process and vision will be improved for the life of the patient. Since this is an outpatient procedure, the need for a follow-up examination may be necessary to check for infection or other problems that could occur — just a safety precaution, as anyone who has spent time in a hospital facility will understand.
Retrosense plans to begin its first clinical trial in 2013 with nine blind retinitis pigmentosa patients.
I could only imagine the excitement they will feel if they are able to regain their vision and put blindness behind them. Just to see family and friends once again would be a blessing, and to see the blue sky would be beyond words. The visible world that most of us take for granted would be a life-changing experience for anyone regaining sight.
Source: Retrosense Therapeutics
CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by neuroticcamel