Experimental Treatments Show Promise In the Restoration of Vision

A retinal prosthesis and fetal tissue transplant are two experimental treatments that appear to restore partial vision to people with blinding eye diseases. Presented at Neuroscience 2009, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, the findings may lead to new treatments for the blind. Researchers also reported that an engineered protein restored vision in an animal model and found ways to improve stem cell treatments.

The new studies examined both animals and people with two degenerative eye diseases: retina pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration. These diseases destroy light-sensitive nerve cells in the retina, eventually leading to blindness. Vision loss and eye disease affects 3.6 million Americans and costs the United States 68 billion dollars annually.

The study results showed that:

  • A retinal prosthesis restores vision to people who are totally blind.  The prosthesis is composed of an array of electrodes and transmits visual information captured by a video camera.
  • “Sheets” of transplanted retinal cells improve visual acuity in several people retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration.
  • In a mouse study of retinitis pigmentosa, engineered light sensitive proteins restored vision. The findings could lead to new treatments for people with degenerative retinal diseases.
  • As researchers continue to develop stem cell therapies for eye disease, a new method increases the yield of retinal cells derived from both embryonic and adult tissue.


Moderator for the conference, Rachel Wong, states, “Basic neuroscience research has formed the basis for significant progress in treating eye disease. These studies would not be possible without technological advances and basic science research that continues to explain normal function and development of the visual system.”


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