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Current Research on Retinitis Pigmentosa

written by: DulceCorazon•edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski•updated: 10/30/2014

Retinitis pigmentosa is a disease characterized by progressive degeneration of photoreptors in the eyes. Learn more about the current research on retinitis pigmentosa.

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    Overview of Retinitis Pigmentosa

    Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is an eye disorder where photoreceptors or cells in the retina degenerate or die and lead to a progressive loss of vision. The progression of visual loss usually starts with night blindness, followed by tunnel vision, and then later on to the loss of central vision.

    Retinitis pigmentosa is an inherited disorder passed down from generation to generation, although the majority of cases occur in patients with no family history of the disease. Some cases are inherited through the autosomal dominant and autosomal recessive patterns. Through the autosomal dominant pattern, the patient can get the disease if one of his parents have it. In autosomal recessive, it is necessary that both parents have the disease in order for them to pass the disease to their child. Retinitis pigmentosa can also be passed as an X-linked disease, where only the male child manifests symptoms of the disease.

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    Retinitis Pigmentosa Treatment

    Patients with retinitis pigmentosa regularly undergo eye examinations in order to monitor the progress of the disease. Medications and surgical care are sometimes needed in the management of these patients.Cataract extraction in the later stage of the disease, as well as transplantation of retinal patches, may benefit some patients.

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    Current Retinitis Pigmentosa Research

    Because of the complexity of the disease, many researchers have conducted studies to help patients have a normal life.

    At the University of Pennsylvania, veterinary eye scientists were able to make use of a viral vector in targeting rods in the retina safely and successfully. It is an important step for developing gene therapies for hereditary blindness resulting from rod degeneration.

    Likewise, scientists from Cleveland, Buffalo and Oklahoma City were able to use a synthetic, non-viral carrier of nanoparticles to save the vision of mice with retinitis pigmentosa.

    Bionic Vision Australia has also done research about RP hoping to find a cure. BVA has developed a bionic eye to improve the lives of patients with RP. The bionic eye has a miniature camera on glasses, which captures visual images and transforms them to signals that will stimulate the retina’s neurons. These signals are then transmitted to the brain.

    Another effort to find a cure for RP was made at Tel Aviv University. Prof. Yael Hanein of the School of Electrical Engineering together with his team is now investigating how their invented special nanotechnology can work for retinal implants. The prosthetic device they have made aims to replace the activity of the damaged photoreceptor cells. Their device is so small and flexible that it fits in the small area of the eye.

    An international team of researchers headed by Columbia University Medical Center successfully utilized embryonic stem cells of mice to replace dead photoreceptor cells in a mouse with RP. The team believes that this discovery can become a potential treatment for RP.

    Because of these new discoveries, patients with retinitis pigmentosa may not stay in the dark forever.