Canadian researchers approach breakthroughs on vision loss

News Nov 06, 2009 Ancaster News

Genetic testing, retinal research and clinical nutrition are just some of the tools today’s researchers are studying in the ongoing fight against vision loss.

Dr. Elise Héon, an ophthalmologist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, said new technologies, such as gene therapy and stem cell therapy, have the potential to reverse vision loss and help people with visual impairments maintain their existing sight.

“Even though we don’t have a cure at this time, we do think we can help you with your vision and make the most of the vision you have,” Dr. Héon said at a Toronto vision health conference.

Top Canadian researchers gathered at Ryerson University earlier this month for the Vision Quest conference, a presentation series sponsored by the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

Gene replacement therapy is an emerging technology researchers are studying to combat retinal degeneration. Inherited retinal degeneration, which includes the condition known as retinitis pigmentosa or RP, affects about one in 3,000 people in North America.

According to the FFB, the group of eye diseases that cause degeneration of the retina affect more than six million North Americans. Macular degeneration, which leads to the loss of central vision, is the leading cause of legal blindness in people over 55. The RP family of diseases is the leading cause of inherited blindness, affecting more than 1.5 million people worldwide.

Genetic testing can be performed by virtually any medical professional. But Dr. Héon is one of a select few researchers, known as genetic counsellors, who can accurately interpret the results.

Genetic testing provides patients and their families with answers, Dr. Héon said. Testing can determine whether a patient is a suitable candidate for gene replacement therapy or other clinical trials.

Dr. Robert Koenekoop, a retinal researcher, said modern science is making great strides in the fight against RP and photoreceptor death.

“We really are at the threshold of something spectacular,” he said.

Using neurotrophic factors and gene therapy, researchers are working on ways to slow neurodegenerative diseases and photoreceptor death.

Dr. Koenekoop said a Swiss company has developed a device the size of a pen tip that contains cells which produce a ciliary neurotrophic factor, or CNTF. While the technology is still not perfect, clinical trials have shown that vision acuity has increased following the introduction of higher CNTF levels.

Gene therapy is a process designed to replace a defective gene in the eye. Researchers place a gene inside a benign virus, which is injected under the retina. The goal, said Dr. Koenekoop, is to rescue the photoreceptors and kickstart the cycle of vitamin A.

Researchers have so far experienced success treating a specific form of photoreceptor loss, called RP65. Preliminary results have indicated a measurable improvement in vision acuity.

“Does it work for everyone and for all genes? We don’t know. But we do know it works for RP 65,” Dr. Koenekoop said. “We’re treating a disease that we thought was untreatable.”

Dr. Koenekoop is also a leading expert in the fields of stem cell research and artificial retina.

Ophthalmologist Dr. YvesSauvésaidaproperdietplaysa key role in eye health. The retina is made up of two types of photoreceptors, called rods and cones. Rods are more numerous, but the cones provide the eye’s colour sensitivity. When rods begin to die during the process of retinitis, patients typically experience tunnel vision. Oxygen levels tend to rise during photoreceptor loss. But patients can help to reduce toxins and limit oxidization by consuming fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants.

Dr. Sauvé recommends vitamins A, C and E, typically found in leafy greens such as kale, Swiss chard and berries. A daily Vitamin A intake of 5,000 international units is standard for most patients.

About 50 per cent of the fat contained in the rods and cones is Docosahexaenoic acid, commonly called DHA or Omega-3 fatty acid. Dr. Sauvé recommendsoilyfishsuchas salmon and mackeral, which are excellent sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.

The Foundation Fighting Blindness is Canada’s largest non-governmental vision loss research organization. Its mission is to support and promote research to find the causes, treatments and cures for RP, macular degeneration and related diseases of the retina.

For a complete overview of Vision Quest 2009, including a list of speakers, written transcripts and audio excerpts, visit www.ffb.ca .

Canadian researchers approach breakthroughs on vision loss

News Nov 06, 2009 Ancaster News

Genetic testing, retinal research and clinical nutrition are just some of the tools today’s researchers are studying in the ongoing fight against vision loss.

Dr. Elise Héon, an ophthalmologist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, said new technologies, such as gene therapy and stem cell therapy, have the potential to reverse vision loss and help people with visual impairments maintain their existing sight.

“Even though we don’t have a cure at this time, we do think we can help you with your vision and make the most of the vision you have,” Dr. Héon said at a Toronto vision health conference.

Top Canadian researchers gathered at Ryerson University earlier this month for the Vision Quest conference, a presentation series sponsored by the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

Gene replacement therapy is an emerging technology researchers are studying to combat retinal degeneration. Inherited retinal degeneration, which includes the condition known as retinitis pigmentosa or RP, affects about one in 3,000 people in North America.

According to the FFB, the group of eye diseases that cause degeneration of the retina affect more than six million North Americans. Macular degeneration, which leads to the loss of central vision, is the leading cause of legal blindness in people over 55. The RP family of diseases is the leading cause of inherited blindness, affecting more than 1.5 million people worldwide.

Genetic testing can be performed by virtually any medical professional. But Dr. Héon is one of a select few researchers, known as genetic counsellors, who can accurately interpret the results.

Genetic testing provides patients and their families with answers, Dr. Héon said. Testing can determine whether a patient is a suitable candidate for gene replacement therapy or other clinical trials.

Dr. Robert Koenekoop, a retinal researcher, said modern science is making great strides in the fight against RP and photoreceptor death.

“We really are at the threshold of something spectacular,” he said.

Using neurotrophic factors and gene therapy, researchers are working on ways to slow neurodegenerative diseases and photoreceptor death.

Dr. Koenekoop said a Swiss company has developed a device the size of a pen tip that contains cells which produce a ciliary neurotrophic factor, or CNTF. While the technology is still not perfect, clinical trials have shown that vision acuity has increased following the introduction of higher CNTF levels.

Gene therapy is a process designed to replace a defective gene in the eye. Researchers place a gene inside a benign virus, which is injected under the retina. The goal, said Dr. Koenekoop, is to rescue the photoreceptors and kickstart the cycle of vitamin A.

Researchers have so far experienced success treating a specific form of photoreceptor loss, called RP65. Preliminary results have indicated a measurable improvement in vision acuity.

“Does it work for everyone and for all genes? We don’t know. But we do know it works for RP 65,” Dr. Koenekoop said. “We’re treating a disease that we thought was untreatable.”

Dr. Koenekoop is also a leading expert in the fields of stem cell research and artificial retina.

Ophthalmologist Dr. YvesSauvésaidaproperdietplaysa key role in eye health. The retina is made up of two types of photoreceptors, called rods and cones. Rods are more numerous, but the cones provide the eye’s colour sensitivity. When rods begin to die during the process of retinitis, patients typically experience tunnel vision. Oxygen levels tend to rise during photoreceptor loss. But patients can help to reduce toxins and limit oxidization by consuming fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants.

Dr. Sauvé recommends vitamins A, C and E, typically found in leafy greens such as kale, Swiss chard and berries. A daily Vitamin A intake of 5,000 international units is standard for most patients.

About 50 per cent of the fat contained in the rods and cones is Docosahexaenoic acid, commonly called DHA or Omega-3 fatty acid. Dr. Sauvé recommendsoilyfishsuchas salmon and mackeral, which are excellent sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.

The Foundation Fighting Blindness is Canada’s largest non-governmental vision loss research organization. Its mission is to support and promote research to find the causes, treatments and cures for RP, macular degeneration and related diseases of the retina.

For a complete overview of Vision Quest 2009, including a list of speakers, written transcripts and audio excerpts, visit www.ffb.ca .

Canadian researchers approach breakthroughs on vision loss

News Nov 06, 2009 Ancaster News

Genetic testing, retinal research and clinical nutrition are just some of the tools today’s researchers are studying in the ongoing fight against vision loss.

Dr. Elise Héon, an ophthalmologist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, said new technologies, such as gene therapy and stem cell therapy, have the potential to reverse vision loss and help people with visual impairments maintain their existing sight.

“Even though we don’t have a cure at this time, we do think we can help you with your vision and make the most of the vision you have,” Dr. Héon said at a Toronto vision health conference.

Top Canadian researchers gathered at Ryerson University earlier this month for the Vision Quest conference, a presentation series sponsored by the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

Gene replacement therapy is an emerging technology researchers are studying to combat retinal degeneration. Inherited retinal degeneration, which includes the condition known as retinitis pigmentosa or RP, affects about one in 3,000 people in North America.

According to the FFB, the group of eye diseases that cause degeneration of the retina affect more than six million North Americans. Macular degeneration, which leads to the loss of central vision, is the leading cause of legal blindness in people over 55. The RP family of diseases is the leading cause of inherited blindness, affecting more than 1.5 million people worldwide.

Genetic testing can be performed by virtually any medical professional. But Dr. Héon is one of a select few researchers, known as genetic counsellors, who can accurately interpret the results.

Genetic testing provides patients and their families with answers, Dr. Héon said. Testing can determine whether a patient is a suitable candidate for gene replacement therapy or other clinical trials.

Dr. Robert Koenekoop, a retinal researcher, said modern science is making great strides in the fight against RP and photoreceptor death.

“We really are at the threshold of something spectacular,” he said.

Using neurotrophic factors and gene therapy, researchers are working on ways to slow neurodegenerative diseases and photoreceptor death.

Dr. Koenekoop said a Swiss company has developed a device the size of a pen tip that contains cells which produce a ciliary neurotrophic factor, or CNTF. While the technology is still not perfect, clinical trials have shown that vision acuity has increased following the introduction of higher CNTF levels.

Gene therapy is a process designed to replace a defective gene in the eye. Researchers place a gene inside a benign virus, which is injected under the retina. The goal, said Dr. Koenekoop, is to rescue the photoreceptors and kickstart the cycle of vitamin A.

Researchers have so far experienced success treating a specific form of photoreceptor loss, called RP65. Preliminary results have indicated a measurable improvement in vision acuity.

“Does it work for everyone and for all genes? We don’t know. But we do know it works for RP 65,” Dr. Koenekoop said. “We’re treating a disease that we thought was untreatable.”

Dr. Koenekoop is also a leading expert in the fields of stem cell research and artificial retina.

Ophthalmologist Dr. YvesSauvésaidaproperdietplaysa key role in eye health. The retina is made up of two types of photoreceptors, called rods and cones. Rods are more numerous, but the cones provide the eye’s colour sensitivity. When rods begin to die during the process of retinitis, patients typically experience tunnel vision. Oxygen levels tend to rise during photoreceptor loss. But patients can help to reduce toxins and limit oxidization by consuming fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants.

Dr. Sauvé recommends vitamins A, C and E, typically found in leafy greens such as kale, Swiss chard and berries. A daily Vitamin A intake of 5,000 international units is standard for most patients.

About 50 per cent of the fat contained in the rods and cones is Docosahexaenoic acid, commonly called DHA or Omega-3 fatty acid. Dr. Sauvé recommendsoilyfishsuchas salmon and mackeral, which are excellent sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.

The Foundation Fighting Blindness is Canada’s largest non-governmental vision loss research organization. Its mission is to support and promote research to find the causes, treatments and cures for RP, macular degeneration and related diseases of the retina.

For a complete overview of Vision Quest 2009, including a list of speakers, written transcripts and audio excerpts, visit www.ffb.ca .