Scientists take big steps towards curing blindness

Scientists from the University of Surrey and the Indiana University School of Medicine believe they could have the answer to treating several causes of blindness, according to a ground-breaking new study.

The researchers have found and tested compounds from a group of plants that could possibly be used to treat the causes of degenerative eye diseases, such as proliferative diabetic retinopathy.

This abnormal growth of new blood vessel cells in the eye is linked to a number of types of blindness – including in premature babies (retinopathy of prematurity), diabetics (proliferative diabetic retinopathy) and older adults (wet age-related macular degeneration).

According to Great Ormond Street Hospital, retinopathy of prematurity affects around 20% of premature babies and mainly occurs in those who are born before week 32 of pregnancy or weigh less than 1500g.

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye – causing blindness if left untreated. It is estimated to affect 28 million people worldwide.

“It goes without saying that losing your eyesight is a devastating experience,” said Professor Dulcie Mulholland, head of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Surrey.

“We believe that our results hint at possible future treatments for many degenerative eye conditions and it appears that nature still has many secrets to reveal.”

“Existing therapies for these diseases must be injected into the eye, and do not work in all patients, said Professor Tim Corson, director of Basic and Translational Research at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Eye Institute

“Our findings are a first step towards therapies that might avoid these shortcomings.”

Stem-cell research

A UK-based research firm, ReNeuron, has also stated that it, too, is making progress with a pioneering treatment that injects stem cells into the back of patients’ eyeballs.

Using this treatment the researchers are aiming to eliminate Retinitis pigmentosa – an inherited condition that slowly constricts vision.

“The company is pleased to confirm that the positive efficacy seen and previously announced has, to date, been sustained in the first patient cohort in the Phase 2 part of the study,” it said in a statement earlier this month.

“In February (2019), the company reported that all three of the first cohort of subjects in the study had reported a rapid and significant improvement in vision, on average equivalent to reading an additional three lines of five letters on the EDTRS eye chart, the standardised eye chart used in clinical trials to measure visual acuity.”

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