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Optogenetic Therapy Trialed

A woman in Texas is the first person to receive an optogenetic therapy, Technology Review reports.

The woman, along with others, was recruited to take part in a clinical trial that seeks to determine whether the approach, which uses both gene therapy and light to control nerves, can be used to treat retinitis pigmentosa. In retinitis pigmentosa, retinal cells die and lead to increasingly impaired vision. There are no treatments for the condition other than an implanted prosthesis, Tech Review notes.

The woman was treated late last month by physicians at the Retina Foundation of the Southwest using an approach developed by RetroSense Therapeutics, Tech Review says. Viruses containing DNA isolated from light-sensitive algae were injected into her eye to coax ganglion cells there to respond to light and restore some vision. The patient will be monitored for the next year for signs of light sensitivity, and she may be given additional doses of the therapy, it adds.

Tech Review notes that the goal is not to fully restore the woman's vision, but to enable some light perception. "Small things like being able to know someone is in the room with them, or being able to cross the road, are a big deal," says David Birch from the Retina Foundation of the Southwest.

Interest in optogenetics and the outcome of this trial goes beyond ophthalmology, Tech Review says. "If it's successful, it suggests that optogenetics has promise not just as a lab tool for studying the brain circuits that underlie diseases like Parkinson's and schizophrenia, but also as a potential therapy for treating people afflicted with them," it adds.