Innovation in eye health is occurring more rapidly than ever before. Since science now knows an unprecedented amount about vision and the human eye, the range of vision-related studies and experiments has only grown wider and more advanced. And one of the most urgent vision issues—that is, blindness—has seen some of the most dramatic and promising progress. At Vision Care Specialists, our experts in surgical vision solutions are closely studying the latest research on blindness so we can offer hope and advice to patients with degenerative vision conditions.
Read on to learn about three of the coolest new innovations in the race to cure blindness!
Stem Cells Repair Damaged Eyes and Retinas
In the past couple years, one form of treating blindness has transformed from a risky, experimental procedure to a fairly widely accepted response to certain cases of macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is the most common cause of vision loss among older adults, and juvenile macular degeneration (impacting 1 in 8,000 Americans) can cause vision loss as early as a person’s teens. Essentially, the condition causes the cells of the retina to deteriorate, impairing the individual’s central vision.
Stem cells—sometimes called “grandfather cells” for their ability to grow into and reproduce any type of cell—have been used to treat many health conditions, particularly those associated with loss or damage to a certain type of cells. For this new treatment, stem cells are turned into retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells that bring nutrients to the retina, in hopes of slowing or even reversing retina damage and macular degeneration.
So far, the results have been positive. We remain a long way from a consistent cure for macular degeneration, but ophthalmologists are cautiously optimistic.
“Bionic Eyes” Bypass Damaged Photoreceptors
A more rare but more severe form of blindness results from degeneration of a different part of the eye: the photoreceptors. Unlike the retina, which is one of the eye’s mechanisms for bringing in light from its surroundings, photoreceptors detect this light and transmit it to the brain. Therefore, when addressing a disease like retinitis pigmentosa (RP), which blinds 100,000 Americans by impairing their photoreceptors, ophthalmologists cannot just repair the damaged mechanics with stem cells. They must create a new means by which the eye communicates with the brain.
Meet the bionic eye. For the first time in July 2015, eye surgeons placed a retinal implant behind the eye of a man who was entirely blinded by RP. The man now wears a pair of high-tech sunglasses with a video camera attached; the camera converts the video into light signals and sends these signals to the retinal implant. The retinal implant then uses electric pulses to bypass the damaged photoreceptors and communicate directly with the brain.
A few months after the surgery, the patient can discern light from dark and the shapes of objects, a vast improvement from his complete blindness prior. He continues to learn and master his new method of vision, and doctors and researchers are learning through him.
Gene Therapy Treats Rare Cause of Blindness
A very rare, blinding disease called Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA), which affects 3,000 Americans, has been the subject of another innovative treatment: gene therapy. LCA damages the retina and photoreceptors and impairs vision starting at a young age. In an experimental trial, doctors devised a harmless virus that would transport healthy cells with proper genes to the eye in order to reverse the damage. Some recipients of the first trial, which occurred in 2007, report continually positive results. For others, their vision has since degenerated once more. But the treatment holds promise.
How To Use This Information
For some of the best eye care and the most innovative surgical vision solutions in the country, look no further than Vision Care Specialists. We are experts in the field who strive to offer cutting-edge service for both medical and surgical eye health treatments. For more information, call us at one of our four locations or contact us online.