Using antioxidant gene therapy, scientists are slowing down vision loss and cell death by boosting photoreceptor cell’s own antioxidant powers. Rods and cones (photoreceptors) allow us to see light and transmit the information to the brain. When these cells get too much oxygen, such that occurs in a disease process like Retinitis Pigmosa, these cells become damaged and ultimately lead to vision loss. To combat the oxidative damage, researchers developed and delivered extra antioxidant genes directly to the eyes of mice that had altered genes that mimic vision loss due to glaucoma or spinal cord injury.
Three groups of mice were used, one group received genes that “cleaned up” reactive oxygen from the cells, the other two groups “turned on” hundreds of other genes including antioxidants. While all three groups slowed the vision loss, one gene in particular, Nrf2, showed the most promise with the treated eye having twice as much vision as the untreated eye.
So should people with vision degenerating diseases run out and start taking antioxidant supplements? Well, it may help other areas of the body but the supplements do not cross the retinal blood barrier easily. The study does, however, show much promise for antioxidant therapies to retain vision.