Many advances in technology that could improve the lives of blind people are on the horizon. Solutions that were thought impossible not long ago are now becoming a reality for many patients suffering from retinal diseases. Treatments such as gene therapy, stem cells, and bionic retinas have shown that vision loss can in fact be reversible.
Common degenerative diseases of the retina, like age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and retinitis pigmentosa (RP), affect tens of millions of people worldwide, but blindness resulting from these conditions had previously been considered irreversible.
Gene therapy, which replaces diseased genes with corrective ones in the cells of the retina, is one advancing treatment. An ongoing trial at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has achieved restored vision to 40 children and young adults using this treatment.
Bionic retinas are another treatment already being used by many patients. They utilize an implanted chip to act as photoreceptor cells, combined with a miniature camera and computer to allow patients to make out objects and movement.
Stem cells also present a promising future treatment. Canto-Soler has successfully used the immature cells to create retinal tissue that will sense light, a large step towards the possibility of cell transplants.