Breakthrough in Retinitis Pigmentosa: UC Irvine Researchers' Discovery

Published on
September 4, 2023

Low Vision Optometrists specialize in optometry services such as low vision care for retinitis pigmentosa and want to share a remarkable discovery in the field of retinitis pigmentosa. Scientists from the University of California, Irvine, have uncovered a promising breakthrough that could lead to a treatment for this vision-threatening condition.


What is Retinitis Pigmentosa 

Retinitis pigmentosa, also referred to as hereditary retinal dystrophy, is a group of hereditary disorders that result in a gradual loss of vision. It is estimated that there are 80,000-100,000 Americans with the condition, and almost 10,000 in California alone. Unlike Macular Degeneration the leading cause of permanent vision loss, this condition usually starts much earlier in life between the ages of 10-30.  Retinitis pigmentosa can impact peripheral vision, often resulting in tunnel vision, it may also cause poor vision at night, poor contrast, glare, and central vision loss.  

The Power of Nanobodies

Finding targeted gene therapies for retinitis pigmentosa has been a challenge due to genetic diversity, although significant investments have been made due to its relative prevalence. In a recent study published in *Nature Communications*, UC Irvine researchers focused on a unique molecule with potential for treating Rhodopsin-associated retinitis pigmentosa (adRP). Rhodopsin, a crucial light-sensing molecule in the human retina, plays a central role in vision. Mutations in the Rhodopsin gene are a primary cause of adRP. UC Irvine researchers used nanobodies to explore Rhodopsin's workings. This approach immobilizes Rhodopsin, preventing activation.

What does this mean for those with Retinitis Pigmentosa? 

While new research is always exciting, there is still a lot of work to do before this can be brought to market. Researchers are hopeful that this discovery has potential for treating Rhodopsin mutants associated with retinal diseases by allowing for the development of nanobody gene therapy for retinitis pigmentosa. However there is still a lot of work to be done to enhance the nanobodies capabilities and to study therapy in mice, which they hope will better enable them to understand how the disease works and how gene therapy can treat it. 

What can be done about Retinitis Pigmentosa today? 

There are many life changing low vision devices that can make a massive difference in the life of someone with vision loss from retinitis pigmentosa. We highly recommend scheduling a low vision evaluation to fully understand the many options available. Low vision optometrists may utilize colored lenses to reduce glare, prism lenses or vision training to improve peripheral vision, magnification, and different technology devices that improve contrast and magnification. 



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