Usher Syndrome Blog and News

The latest USH blog posts and various news items impacting the Usher syndrome community. Join our mailing list.

Ganglion cells in the eye generate noise as the light-sensitive photoreceptors die in diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Now, neurobiologists have found a drug and gene therapy that can tamp down the noise, improving sight in mice with RP. These therapies could potentially extend the period of useful vision in those with degenerative eye diseases, including, perhaps, age-related macular degeneration.

What this means for Usher syndrome: This type of therapy may also extend the period of useful vision in Usher syndrome.

ProQR Therapeutics N.V., a company dedicated to changing lives through the creation of transformative RNA medicines for the treatment of severe genetic rare diseases, today announced the first patient treated in the Phase 1/2 STELLAR clinical trial for QR-421a in patients with Usher syndrome type 2 or non-syndromic retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Interim data from the trial are expected to be announced by mid-2019. According to David G. Birch, Ph.D., Principal Investigator of STELLAR and Scientific Director of the Retina Foundation of the Southwest in Dallas, Texas, “The STELLAR study is one of the first studies of its kind exploring the impact of ProQR’s RNA therapies on patients with Usher syndrome type 2 due to an Exon 13 mutation. The STELLAR trial will explore whether QR-421a (ProQR’s RNA therapy) can slow disease progression or even reverse it.”

What this means for Usher syndrome: There may be a potential drug available to reverse blindness caused by Usher syndrome.

Researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China injected tiny nanoparticles into mouse eyes that bind the retina into the eyeballs, hence giving them what the team calls ‘super vision.’ The injected nanoparticles bind to photoreceptors and shift the wavelength of light. After the injection, the mice could see normally invisible near-infrared light effectively extending ‘mammalian vision’. Scientists predict that these kinds of nanoparticles could help repair vision in humans who experience loss of retinal function or red color blindness. Additionally, this method is less invasive than other conventional vision repair methods.

What this means for Usher syndrome: This method might be used to increase light sensitivity as vision is lost.

The USH2019 Early Bird Rate has been extended to March 15th and there are new opportunities to connect at this annual Usher syndrome event!

ReNeuron Group, a UK-based global leader in the development of cell-based therapeutics, announced positive preliminary results in the company’s ongoing Phase 1/2 clinical trial of its human retinal progenitor cells candidate therapy for the blindness-causing disease, retinitis pigmentosa (RP). All three subjects in the first group of the Phase 2 part of the trial demonstrated a significant improvement in vision at the follow-up compared to their pre-treatment baseline and compared with their untreated control eye.

What this means for Usher syndrome: A similar cell-based therapy tailored to Usher syndrome may help restore vision.

The Sanford Health Lorraine Cross Award worth $1 million was established to award game-changers in medicine. The award is not to have people to live forever, but to “live life without suffering.” The winners of the award are Dr. Jean Bennett and Dr. Katherine High of the University of Pennsylvania, pioneers of gene therapy research. The award is in recognition of the improvements in gene therapy that led to an FDA-approved treatment for Leber’s congenital amaurosis.

What this means for Usher syndrome: This award not only reflects the importance of gene therapy for the treatment of genetic disorders but could accelerate research in Usher syndrome through gene therapy.

A team of scientists from Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University (MSMU), together with colleagues from leading scientific centers in India and Moscow, described several genetic mutations causing Usher syndrome.

What this means for Usher syndrome: These previously unstudied genetic mutations will allow us to identify new targets for specific therapies.

The United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) has approved the usage of mesencephalic-astrocyte-derived neurotrophic factor (MANF) or cerebral dopamine neurotropic factor (CDNF) as a treatment for various retinal disorders including retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration, or glaucoma. Both factors can be administered as an eye drop or by intravitreal injection. MANF is believed to have potential because it is a naturally-occurring protein produced by the body to reduce or prevent cell death in response to injury or disease through unfolded protein response.

What this means for Usher syndrome: Since MANF reduces or prevents cell death, in the case of Usher syndrome, it could prevent photoreceptor cells from dying, and thus preserve vision.

Join us for our 11th annual USH Connections Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 13, 2019. Attendees describe this conference as "life-changing," an event with a positive atmosphere and a genuine sense of community. At the USH Connections Conference, you will connect face-to-face with hundreds of people who "get it", meet and network with others facing the same challenges, and learn the latest on developing treatments from leading USH researchers.

A new purple protein, bacteriorhodopsin, has made its way from a tiny laboratory in Farmington, Connecticut, all the way up to the International Space Station. Since bacteriorhodopsin is light-sensitive, researchers hope to implant it into human eyes. The thought is that the protein could be used to replace cells that die due to diseases like retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration. To simulate the cells, the laboratory in Farmington needs to build what it is called “organic implants” by layering the bacteriorhodopsin onto a film and dipping it over and over into a series of solutions. These solutions need to have a uniform distribution that can be adversely affected by gravity. To test this, LambdaVision has secured a spot for their experiment aboard the International Space Station, using funding from the ISS National Lab and Boeing.

What this means for Usher syndrome: These “organic implants”, composed of bacteriorhodopsin, could be capable of replacing dying photoreceptors in the retina.

Researchers revealed that culturing human induced pluripotent stem cells with different isoforms of the extracellular component laminin led to the creation of cells specific to different parts of the eye, including retinal, corneal, and neural crest cells. They showed that the different laminin variants affected the cells' motility, density, and interactions, resulting in their differentiation into specific ocular cell lineages. Cells cultured in this way could be used to treat various ocular diseases.

What this means for Usher syndrome: There is the possibility of replacing the photoreceptor cells that are dying in the retina with pluripotent cells that have been grown and induced into healthy photoreceptor cells.

Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute have discovered a set of simple rules that can determine the precision of CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing in human cells. These rules could help to improve the efficiency and safety of genome editing in both the lab and the clinic. By examining the effect of CRISPR genome editing at 1491 target sites across 450 genes in human cells, the team have discovered that the outcomes can be predicted based on simple rules. In this study, researchers have found that the outcome of a particular gene edit depends on the fourth letter from the end of the RNA guide, synthetic molecules made up of about 20 genetic letters (A, T, C, G). “The team discovered that if this letter is an A or a T, there will be a very precise genetic insertion; a C will lead to a relatively precise deletion and a G will lead to many imprecise deletions. Thus, simply avoiding sites containing a G makes genome editing much more predictable.”

What this means for Usher syndrome: Scientists will theoretically be able to repair the mutation present in an Usher gene by selecting the correct genetic letter from the end of the RNA guide.

ProQR Therapeutics announced that the FDA has cleared the Investigational New Drug (IND) application for QR-421a. QR-421a is a first-in-class investigational RNA-based oligonucleotide designed to address the underlying cause of the vision loss associated with Usher syndrome type 2 and non-syndromic retinitis pigmentosa due to mutations in exon 13 of the USH2A gene. ProQR plans to start enrolling patients in a Phase 1/2 trial named STELLAR in the coming months with preliminary data expected in mid-2019.

We are pleased to share with you the video, transcripts, slides and summaries of the 2018 International Symposium on Usher Syndrome in Mainz, Germany.

The light scalpel has the potential of preventing the “ripple effect” that occurs following a trigger that leads to glaucoma or macular degeneration. By utilizing the femtosecond laser, small holes appear in the cells of the eye’s retina, making it possible to effectively inject drugs or genes in specific areas of the eye. The key feature of this technology is extreme precision because through the usage of gold nanoparticles, the light scalpel makes it possible to precisely locate the family of cells where the doctor will have to intervene.

What this means for Usher syndrome: In CRISPR/Cas9 editing or drug delivery, the utilization of the femtosecond laser will improve the delivery of the specific compound to the affected area with minimum side effects.

The Usher Syndrome Coalition's one-day conference, the USH Connections Conference, is the largest annual gathering of our global Usher syndrome community. Join us for this incredible opportunity to learn the latest on developing treatments from leading USH researchers while connecting with hundreds of affected individuals, their families, and professionals serving the deafblind community.

We invite you to join the Usher Syndrome Coalition in celebration of our 4th global Usher Syndrome Awareness Day, Saturday, September 15, 2018.

In August, it will be a year since the first commercial IRIS®II retinal chip implantation in Europe took place; it has allowed a blind patient to perceive light stimuli and use it to locate objects, meaning that she can be more independent. This work has made it possible to integrate artificial vision technology, which includes an electrical retinal stimulator with over 150 electrodes, glasses with a bio-inspired mini-camera and a pocket processor into this patient’s day-to-day life. For the patient, blind from a result of retinitis pigmentosa, the retinal chip is another way of supporting her in her daily life, together with her guide dog and the use of a cane.

What this means for Usher syndrome: There are possible technologies available to help the blind live and navigate independently.

Urge your House Representative to support the "Eye-Bonds" bill to provide $1 billion of new funding designated for treatments and cures of all causes of blindness and severe vision loss, including Usher syndrome.

Hans Jørgen Wiberg describes Be My Eyes, the app made up of a global community that connects people who are blind or have low vision with sighted volunteers from around the world through a live video call.

The Kimberling Usher Research Laboratory in the Institute for Vision Research is pleased to announce an increase in their campaign goal to $10 million. This increase is possible because additional major donors have joined the "challenge side" of the matching effort so that they can now match every gift for Usher Syndrome Research, dollar for dollar, until $10 million is raised.

Since 1995, University of California, Irvine stem cell researcher Magdalene J. Seiler, PhD has pursued promising research into the development and usage of retinal sheet transplantation. The treatment is based on transplanting sheets of stem cell-derived retina, called retina organoids to the back of the eye with hopes of re-establishing the neural circuity within the eye. Recently, Seiler has received a $4.8 million grant from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to continue to develop a stem cell-based therapy for retinal diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa.

The number one question asked of the Usher Syndrome Coalition is “What is the status on treatments and/or a cure for Usher syndrome?” In order to be able to answer this question, the Usher Syndrome Coalition sponsors an annual conference focused exclusively on the latest efforts and findings of Usher researchers worldwide. This year, for the first time, our 10th annual USH Connections conference, along with the fourth international symposium for scientists, will be hosted by our partners in Germany.

A group of research physicians have discovered that using stem cells from a person’s own bone marrow has reported success in improving vision for patients with Retinitis Pigmentosa. The bone marrow stem cells come from the same person; therefore, there can be no rejection. Of the 33 eyes studied, 45.5% of individual eyes improved and 45.5% remained stable over the follow-up period when they typically have been worsening. Vision improvement is 98.4% likely to be a consequence of this treatment.

A US clinician has received a five-year £6.1 million grant to investigate the potential of advancing a gene therapy currently used in dogs to help retinitis pigmentosa (RP) patients. The treatment restored the night vision and stopped the progression of the daytime vision-loss in dogs with progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). PRA is an inherited condition in dogs and is caused by the same genes that are responsible for RP. This new grant will allow clinicians to build on primary studies in preparation for a possible clinical trial in human patients with RP.

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