Can blindness caused by macular degeneration be prevented?

india today insight.jpg?IzvocAu7gyMvDry age-related macular degeneration affects millions of people in India and around the world. Dr Jogin Desai, CEO and co-founder of Eyestem, Bengaluru, explains how a new treatment can help reverse the incurable condition.

A serious situation: Dry age-related macular degeneration affects 15 million to 40 million people in India and about 170 million people worldwide. It is an irreversible and incurable form of blindness. How does this happen? The layer of the retina known as the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is like the foundation of a building. Photoreceptor cells, which are light sensing cells, sit at this base. When the RPE layer disintegrates, the foundation moves away and the building collapses, and so you lose vision.

Central vision loss: Usually the person suffers from central vision loss. So while looking at someone, you will not be able to see his/her face. Gradually the central vision loss will increase so much that the person will be unable to see anything. there is no cure. If luck is good, the disease will progress slowly.

New treatment may help: We have created the RPE layer in our laboratory in Bengaluru. We have added that layer to animals that are genetically modified and do not have the RPE layer. This second work has been done with our colleagues in Portland, USA. For example, in rats, when we put down our RPE layer, they do not lose their eyesight, whereas where we do not put down the layer, rats lose eyesight faster.

Towards cost effective treatment: We have applied to the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization for approval to conduct human trials. As soon as we get the approval, testing will be done and the product will be approved. Most cell and gene therapies worldwide cost $200,000 to $300,000 or more. Luxturna, which is the only therapy for eyes approved by the US FDA, costs $495,000 for one injection for one eye. Our purpose in creating iStem is to offer scalable and relatively affordable cell therapy. Our price target for this treatment is $10,000 or less and we are making progress.

Outpatient Procedure: Injecting the injection into one’s eye will require local anesthesia. Any retina surgeon will be able to do this. We have created processes to ensure that essential equipment is available to hospitals on a regular basis. A US company, Lineage Therapeutics, has shown that a patient gets an average benefit of 7.6 letters. This is remarkable in that the disease actually results in degeneration and blindness.

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edited by:

Aditya Mohan Wig

Published on:

October 8, 2023

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