Could lost photoreceptors be restored?

With advances in cellular reprogramming technology, it could be possible to regenerate lost photoreceptors in the eye – bringing hope of a potential future treatment for retinitis pigmentosa.


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Photoreceptors – the highly-sensitive cells in the back of the eye that respond to light – are essential for vision.

The eye works a bit like a camera, capturing light and sending it through the optic nerve to the brain. Rods and cones, the two major photoreceptors in the back of the eye, do the important job of detecting light and converting it into electrical signals. This vital information is then passed on to the brain to create a picture.

Loss or degeneration of photoreceptors is one of the most common forms of blindness in the Western world.

This is a central hallmark of conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

Once photoreceptors are lost, there is currently no effective way to restore sight.

Cell reprogramming

Cell reprogramming could offer a potential solution. Through this advanced technology, it may be possible to convert other cells in the eye into new photoreceptors, restoring sight.

Dr Raymond Wong, a Principal Investigator at CERA, is currently investigating this technology as a treatment for diseases like retinitis pigmentosa.

“Recent advances in cellular reprogramming allow us to convert one cell type into another by manipulation of the genes within the cells,” Dr Wong explains.

“This project aims to convert and repurpose retinal cells within the eye into new photoreceptors, promoting retinal regeneration and visual repair.

“The outcome of this project will provide preclinical evidence of the potential of this novel regenerative therapy to treat photoreceptor loss as seen in retinitis pigmentosa and other inherited retinal diseases, including Stargardt’s disease and age-related macular degeneration.”

Funding support for innovative research

Dr Wong’s research has been generously supported with new funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and Retina Australia.

The project was awarded $890,240 over four years through the NHMRC Ideas Grants program, which aims to support innovative research projects addressing a specific question.

Retina Australia has further supported this work with a $40,000 medical research grant.

“On behalf of my team and everyone at CERA, I am extremely grateful for this support from NHMRC and Retina Australia,” Dr Wong says.

“The project aims to understand the disease mechanism in photoreceptor degeneration, and to develop cell reprogramming technology to regenerate photoreceptors and restore vision in retinitis pigmentosa.”

Our inherited retinal disease research

CERA researchers are striving to advance our knowledge of IRDs and develop potential treatments.

Learn more about this research, from gene therapy to the bionic eye and beyond.

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