In degenerative conditions like retinitis pigmentosa, the cells (mainly rods) which absorb light and convert the light energy into electrical energy gradually die. The resultant loss of vision is irreversible. For now, there is no treatment available for retinitis pigmentosa.
Scientist all over the world are working on solutions to enhance vision and prevent blindness in such cases.
There seems to be a breakthrough in retinitis pigmentosa research now. Guglielmo Lanzani and colleagues of the Center for Nano Science and Technology in Milan have designed an organic and flexible retinal implant which helps light signals on the back of the eye reach the visual cortex in the brain. These implants were surgically placed in the eyes of rats with retinitis pigmentosa.
They later found that light sensitivity and vision were significantly better in the treated rats than the untreated ones.
Encouraged by the results, scientists are now testing the implants with larger size in pigs. Regarding the clinical trials in humans, the neuroscientist Benfenati says:
“We believe, based on these data, we could probably attempt the first human implant…within the next two years.”
Some ophthalmologists and scientists are however cautious about the new developments. According to them, the light required to stimulate the implant was several times brighter than what the rats are used to in normal conditions. Further, the compatibility of the implant material with the live tissue is also a concern.
With further research on this front, solutions are likely to be found wherever the scientists face challenges. The direction in which the scientists are working is right. They just need to refine the design and functionality of the implants in the coming years. Hopefully in near future, we will be able to offer satisfactory treatment for retinitis pigmentosa and other retinal degenerative conditions.
Photo by National Eye Institute