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Jun 1, 2023

A new approach to vision restoration for inherited retinal diseases

Dr Michel Cayouette’s team (University of Montreal) has found a way to reactivate cells in the retina and turn them into light-sensing cells, potentially replacing those lost in retinal degeneration. This work, funded by Fighting Blindness Canada, was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

photo of Dr. Cayouette
Image is of Dr. Michel Cayouette, IRCM, Université de Montréal

Inherited retinal diseases, like retinitis pigmentosa, choroideremia, and Stargardt disease lead to progressive vision loss and blindness. Vision loss is caused by death of light-sensing photoreceptor cells in the retina. Gene therapy approaches are being studied that may slow or stop photoreceptor degeneration. However, they cannot restore vision in advanced disease once a lot of photoreceptors are lost. Therefore, many researchers are looking at ways to replace lost cells and restore sight.

Dr. Cayouette’s team discovered that a type of cell in the retina, called a Müller glial cell, can be transformed into a cell that has some of the same properties and function as photoreceptor cells. The team identified two genes, that when turned on in the Müller cells, transformed them into photoreceptor-like cells. This approach uses cells that are already in a person’s eye and could avoid the need for cell transplantation.

In the next steps, Dr. Cayouette’s team will be trying to improve the transformation technique to create cells that are as similar to photoreceptors as possible and therefore are more likely to regenerate vision.

Thank you to our community for their generosity in supporting this ground-breaking work.

Image is of a mother holding her child, smiling, with text overlaid on the image that states, "Your gift brings hope to over 8 million living with a blinding eye disease."

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