One biotech startup wants to restore vision in blind patients with a gene therapy that gives light sensitivity to neurons that don't normally possess it. The attempt, by Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Retrosense Therapeutics, will use so-called optogenetics. Scientists have used the technique over the last few years as a research tool to study brain circuits and the neural control of behavior by directing neuron activity with flashes of light. But Retrosense and others groups are pushing to bring the technique to patients in clinical trials.
The idea behind Retrosense's experimental therapy is to use optogenetics to treat patients who have lost their vision due to retinal degenerative diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa. Patients with retinitis pigmentosa experience progressive and irreversible vision loss because the rods and cones of their eyes die due to an inherited condition. If the company is successful, the treatment could also help patients with the most common form of macular degeneration, which affects nearly a million people in the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't approved any therapies for either condition.