Researchers report that a new treatment for retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a previously irreversible degenerative eye disease that affects 2 million people around the world, was able to restore partial vision to patients.
The study was published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine. In people with RP, gene mutations cause the slow deterioration of the eye's rod-shaped photoreceptors, so visual information is no longer delivered to the brain. Led by Dr. José-Alain Sahel, a professor of ophthalmology at Sorbonne University and the University of Pittsburgh, researchers took a closer look at ChrimsonR, a protein that triggers electrical activity and makes cells able to absorb light.
The team wanted to find a way to use ChrimsonR to boost the light sensitivity of the cells in the retina, and they were able to "genetically manipulate a harmless adenovirus so that it carried Chrimson," Time reports. "The virus was then injected into the fluid-filled portion of the eye behind the lens."
One of the trial participants, a 58-year-old man who was diagnosed with RP four decades ago, started the study with the ability to perceive some light. A dose of the altered virus was injected into one of his eyes, and he wore goggles to regulate incoming light so it wasn't too intense. For several months, researchers tested him to see if he could determine which objects were in front of him on a table. He wasn't successful until four months in, and soon he could even detect people and the crosswalk at an intersection.
Sahel believes this could be a permanent solution for vision loss caused by RP, but more research needs to be done on everything from dosing levels to the best time to start treating patients. Read more at Time.