In degenerative retinal diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP), photoreceptors (mainly rods) and pigmentary epithelium suffer progressive damage, which leads, on a functional level, to the progressive loss of the mid-peripheral visual field and night blindness. Despite this, the retina’s internal neuronal circuit persists
The DRUG4SIGHT* project enjoys the coordination of the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) and the participation of the Barcelona Macula Foundation (BMF), the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), the Miguel Hernández University of Elche (UMH) and the University of Alcalá (UAH). It aims to discover and characterise a series of compounds that can stimulate proteins still present in the degenerated retina and make the non-degenerated remnant cells act as photoreceptors, light-sensitive cells.
Preliminary data with an active compound shows that, in tests conducted on blind zebrafish larvae, the degenerated retina can be rapidly photosensitised and these fish recover their vision. These results are encouraging but should be confirmed in animal models with a visual system that is more akin to that of a human being. It is also necessary to know whether these drugs, in addition to restoring light sensitivity, can also bring back visual acuity.
The aim of the research is to validate this therapeutic approach through the in vitro photosensitisation of degenerated human retinas and to assess changes in visual function in animal models. It is also to identify a light-regulated candidate compound that is safe and pharmacologically selective, one which responds to visible light and demonstrates a high efficacy in restoring vision.
The anticipated result of the project is the identification of a compound among a library of candidate molecules that leads to the first clinical trial of light-regulated drugs for vision restoration. These results would represent a great scientific and therapeutic development and would have a major social impact for all those who suffer from degenerative vision diseases.
The DRUG4SIGHT consortium consists of bioengineers, medical chemists, retinologists and clinical physiologists and has the support and collaboration of patient associations, technology centres and pharmaceutical companies. The research enjoys the financial support of La Caixa and has a budget of close to half a million euros.
*The project DRUG4SIGHT has received funding from “la Caixa” (ID 100010434), under the agreement LCF/PR/ HR19 / 52160010.
Caption of the photograph above: Vertical section of adult rabbit retina. Immunocytochemical labelling with antibodies speci=ic for bipolar cells (red), horizontal cell processes (green) and ganglion cells (violet). The labelling of the cell nuclei of the external and internal nuclear layers is shown in blue. A nonspeci=ic labelling of the external segments of the photoreceptors and the internal plexiform layer is appreciated.
Image credit: Pedro de la Villa, Universidad de Alcalá.