Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right. ~Oprah Winfrey
Happy New Year! I hope you had a chance to rest, relax, and look forward to a much better year ahead. After all, as Oprah says, we have another opportunity to get it right (hint: November 3, 2020).
As we age, some of us find our vision is faltering, caused by age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), cataracts, or retinitis pigmentosa. It turns out that I have ARMD and the start of cataracts. In this issue, I’ll focus on some wonderful advances to help save our sight: gene therapy for three blind mice and squirrel monkeys, and bionic eyes for the totally blind.
Gene Therapy for Blindness is Coming
Scientists injected a gene related to seeing green into blind mice. Within weeks, mice were able to navigate mazes as well as normal mice, seeing motion, changes in brightness, and fine detail. Some studies were performed on multiple cohorts of 3 blind mice — no joke.
With neurodegenerative diseases of the retina, often all people try to do is halt or slow further degeneration. [Read about AREDS vitamins for ARMD.] But something that restores an image in a few months — it is an amazing thing to think about.
Good News: Gene therapy, delivered via an inactive virus, could soon go to testing in humans who have lost sight because of retinal degeneration. Hopefully, this will give us enough vision as we age to move around and restore our ability to read or watch a video.
Monkeys With Superpower Eyes Could Help Cure Color Blindness
Again, research animals, in this case, squirrel monkeys with red-green color blindness, are helping to rescue our vision. Unless you are color blind, you may not know that our species is one of only a few that can see an almost complete color spectrum. Most mammals only have two photoreceptors for color. But some primates, including humans, are trichromatic (cones for red, green, and blue). About 1% of men are red-green color blind, and gene therapy may find a cure.
“Little by little, we began to work out the genetics of color blindness in humans,” Jay Neitz says. “The most common thing that happens is that humans lose one gene on the X chromosome. We say it’s basically a back-mutation. Humans turn back into a squirrel monkey.”
Good News: These advances using gene therapy in squirrel monkeys may help to cure color blindness in humans. Four or five clinical trials of gene therapy for human color vision deficiencies, including the more severe form, achromatopsia (total lack of functioning cone receptors), are underway.
Four Blind People Go Home With New Bionic Eyes
Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a genetically linked disease and is the primary cause of inherited blindness. Usually diagnosed in early adulthood, RP is characterized by the progressive loss of peripheral vision and night vision difficulties. Bionic eyes involving an implant with an electrode behind the retina and associated electronics offer significant hope.
Each of the patients has returned home after surgery and are working with the clinical and research team to learn to use the device and incorporate it into their everyday lives …. We believe the Australian bionic eye being tested has advantages … including a superior surgical approach, stability of the device and unique vision processing software that aims to improve the patient’s experience.
Good News: Bionic Vision Technologies, a firm based in Australia, announced that its bionic eye system had been used to restore a “sense of sight” to four completely blind people with retinitis pigmentosa.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like driving at night these days and find it easier to read on an iPad rather than the small type in books and newspapers. If we live long enough, we may all benefit from these promising new technologies. Here’s to a seeing a Happy New Year with 2020 vision!
Dr. Rod Murray