US experts make eye disease breakthrough

US experts make eye disease breakthrough

By Adrian Galbrteh

The key to treating one of the most common causes of vision loss on the planet could lie in a new pig model developed by experts in the US.

Researchers from the University of Louisville Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences and at the National Swine Resource and Research Center at the University of Missouri claim that may have found a cure for retinitis pigmentosa (RP).

According to the experts, a newly developed, genetically modified pig may hold the keys to the development of improved treatments for the condition.

Dr Henry Kaplan, Evans Professor and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences at the University of Louisville, explained that specialists have previously relied mostly on rodent models to study the development and progression of this disease.

Despite some very important insights having been obtained, rodent eyes are much smaller than human eyes and lack some important retinal structures.

Therefore, the development of a large animal model of retinitis pigmentosa is an "important step forward" in the research of this blinding disease, he noted.

"This new tool, developed in the miniature swine, should allow important progress in the development of novel treatments for this disease," Dr Kaplan noted.

Researchers used an abnormal gene called RHO P23H, which is the most common cause of autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa, and inserted it into the nucleus of miniature pig embryos, which were then transferred into surrogate mothers for gestation.

The experts found that the offspring expressed the mutant gene that causes RP and their eyes showed classic features of the eye disease.

According to Dr Kaplan, the pig model will now be used to screen the efficacy of various novel therapies for this disease, including stem cell transplantation, drug therapy, gene therapy and the retinal prosthesis.

"We now have a model of RP that mimics human disease in a large animal. These pigs will be on the front line of the development of new therapies for this devastating disease," she added.

by Adrian Galbreth

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