Eye On the Cure Research News

Mar 30, 2021

Bionic Sight’s Optogenetic Therapy Enables Blind Patients to Detect Light and Motion in Early Trial

The approach holds potential for restoring vision to people with little or no vision

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Four patients with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) – all of whom had complete or nearly complete blindness – had some vision restored in a Phase 1/2 clinical trial for an emerging optogenetic therapy developed by Bionic Sight. All of the patients can now see light and motion. Two of the patients can detect the direction of motion; that is, they can determine if objects are moving to the right or left. The company’s trial is the first to report vision restoration in humans receiving an optogenetic therapy. The therapy is designed to work for people with advanced vision loss,  independent of the mutated gene causing the retinal disease.

The four patients treated thus far received a low dose of the therapy. The company believes that higher doses may provide better vision. A total of 20 patients will be enrolled in the trial underway at Ophthalmic Consultants of Long Island (OCLI).

Patients in the trial began reporting anecdotal improvements in vision about two to three months after receiving the optogenetic therapy.

One patient said that one of the first new things he saw was Hanukkah candles on the eighth day of the holiday when they were all lit. 

Another patient reported that he could see his hand on his wife’s back. (He has light skin – she has dark.)

Two patients who practice martial arts saw the robes of their opponents against the dark blue mat.

Bionic Sight’s optogenetic therapy was conceived and developed by Sheila Nirenberg, PhD, the company’s founder, and a professor at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. The emerging treatment has two components. The first is a gene therapy that bestows light sensitivity to retinal ganglion cells – cells that don’t otherwise respond to light but survive after photoreceptors have been lost to retinal disease. The second component is a neural coding device worn like a pair of glasses. The device transmits visual information to the ganglion cells.

“Though we are still at an early stage in the trial, we are encouraged by the vision the patients are experiencing so far – both in the real world and in the lab testing center – as well as the good safety profile thus far,” says Dr. Nirenberg. “We look forward to study results as we deliver higher doses to participants later this year.”

Bionic Sight used the Foundation’s My Retina Tracker Patient Registry (www.MyRetinaTracker.org) for identifying potential patients for its trial.

“Optogenetics is an important therapeutic approach, because it holds potential for restoring meaningful vision for people with retinal diseases who are completely blind,” says Benjamin Yerxa, PhD, chief executive officer at the Foundation. “We are encouraged by Bionic Sight’s early results and hope further vision improvements can be achieved.”