Millions of adults over age 50 struggle each year with vision loss caused by damage to the retina or common macular degeneration.
Physics researchers at The University of Texas at Arlington have developed a new platform that uses ultrafast near-infrared lasers to deliver gene therapy to damaged areas of the retina to enable vision restoration in patients with photo-degenerative diseases.
“Most therapies focus on slowing down or halting degeneration but cannot target already-damaged areas of the retina,” said Samarenda Mohanty, assistant professor of physics and head of UTA’s Biophysics and Physiology Group, who led the research. “Our capacity to specifically target these damaged areas cell by cell opens up a new world of possibilities for vision restoration.”
Mohanty demonstrated the effectiveness of the new method in a recent article published by the Nature journal Light: Science & Applications. In his study, Mohanty and his team compared their ultrafast near-infrared laser-based method of delivering genes with the popular non-viral chemical gene delivery system known as lipofection.
The laser-based method creates a transient sub-mircometer hole that allows the gene for light-sensitive proteins, or opsins, to permeate into the damaged retinal cell. The genes are then activated to produce the opsins, which attach to the cell membrane and convert external light into the photocurrent signals that are basis of sight.
In Mohanty’s experiments, the laser-based method gave better results than chemical gene delivery in terms of the amount of opsins produced and the number expressed on the membrane of the cell. It was also able to target cells one by one where the chemical gene delivery system cannot be that specific.
Furthermore, the laser-based method was also able to effectively deliver large packages of genes encoding a wide spectrum of colors to damaged retinal cells, which could enable broadband vision restoration in patients with photo-degenerative diseases.
With aging populations in many countries, the number of macular degeneration sufferers is expected to reach 196 million worldwide by 2020 and increase to 288 million by 2040, according to The Lancet.
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