Currently, there is an unmet need for technologies to treat vision loss because of photoreceptor degeneration. Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) have come up with a new idea. Ophthalmologists are testing out electronic technology to stimulate the nerves in the eyes. This requires putting a device into the eye which is an expensive and invasive surgery. USC researchers are looking at a non-surgical solution that would involve ultrasound technology. They are currently testing on animals to see if ultrasound stimulation can replace electric stimulation. Instead of needing surgery to put something in the eye, the user of this technology would only have to wear an ultrasound device. This device will make ultrasound waves to stimulate the eyes. When someone pushes against their eyes when the eyes are closed, shapes and bright spots appear. Researchers are using this phenomenon to study how putting pressure on the eye can activate neurons and send signals to the brain. The ultrasound waves would be applying pressure to eyes that cannot see. Currently, researchers are using blind rats. They have a small ultrasound device that can be directed to specific parts of the eyes and send sound waves to the retina which causes this type of pressure. This type of ultrasound device is similar to the ultrasound probe used to look at unborn babies. Researchers have discovered that the patterns of the ultrasound waves can be changed and the brain will pick up these different patterns. This research currently has a $2.3 million grant lasting for four years. The team has recently applied for a new grant to continue studying this potential new technology.
What this means for Usher syndrome: This research is still in the early stages but may become a viable therapeutic option for vision loss that does not require surgery. Researchers are currently conducting studies with animal models but may expand to human clinical trials in the future.