According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 1.3 billion people worldwide suffer from some form of vision impairment.
The most common and main causes of currently incurable blindness encompass age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and inherited retinal dystrophies (IRDs). Other major contenders are glaucoma, pathological myopia, and corneal blindness, all of which have high health impacts.
A recent, and exciting, pre-clinical research study in gene therapy and retinal prosthetics has lead to better treatments for blindness and visual impairment, as was stated in a new Focus, celebrating the 10th anniversary of Science Translational Medicine.
Clear and sharp focus
The good news is that the author of the Focus, José-Alain Sahel and his colleagues, state that preclinical research advancement is opening doors to new and innovative treatments for blindness in the clinic.
In 2017, for example, the FDA approved a gene therapy that essentially replaces mutated genes. This therapy has shown promise in clinical trials of severe inherited retinal diseases in both adults and children.
In another example, the use of stem cells to replace degenerated retinal cells has been used in preclinical trials in order to protect light-sensing cells from degeneration. This development is called neuroprotection.
Vision for blind people partially restored
Another exciting advancement is that scientists have started leveraging technology in the form of prosthetic implants for the retina. This will help to restore vision in partially blind people. One of these implants has already been approved to go out to market in Europe and in the US.
What are the challenges?
Effects to the plasticity of the brain due to these interventions are what the authors deem as the next set of challenges.
On top of that, what actual impact do these prosthetics have on patients’ day-to-day lives remains to be seen.