Learn about the Latest research

All Archived Science News

Disclaimer: The information contained on the Usher Syndrome Coalition website and other online properties is provided for your information only. The Coalition is neither a medical service nor a scientific organization. It provides information concerning the various types of Usher syndrome that includes information developed or derived from unrelated third parties over which the Coalition has no involvement or control. The Usher Syndrome Coalition does not independently, nor in conjunction with others, attest to, deny, or comment upon the merits of the accuracy of the information provided by unrelated third parties. No reliance on medical or scientific information contained on this website should be taken by any person. You should always consult with and be guided by your Physician’s advice when considering treatment based on research results.

Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) scientists have fine-tuned their delivery system to send a DNA editing tool to alter DNA sequences and modify gene function. With this new method, researchers can package together the Cas9 protein and guide RNA for the CRISPR mediated gene editing. Previously, the two components—Cas9 protein and guide RNA—had to be delivered separately which was not as efficient. The new system offers the delivery efficiency of conventional lentiviral vectors that enable transient Cas9 expression. Transient Cas9 expression means a decrease chance of having unwanted effects when using this therapy.

What this means for Usher syndrome: For Usher patients, improving the efficacy of CRISPR technology means that they will be able to receive a more efficient treatment with very low side-effects.

Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) and Boston-based genetic medicine company Akouos have entered into an exclusive licensing agreement to develop a patented gene therapy that could potentially treat hearing loss associated with a type of Usher syndrome. It may be able to stop the progression of hearing loss and prevent deafness in people with USH3A. The hearing loss is “sensorineural,” meaning it is caused by abnormalities of the inner ear, while the vision is due to the degeneration of the retina at the back of the eye. The technology has allowed researchers to develop a more precise animal model of the hearing loss associated with Usher syndrome type 3A, and the potential for the technology to deliver the preservation of hearing and quality of life for children and adults diagnosed with the genetic disorder.

What this means for Usher syndrome: The development of a more precise animal model for USH3A will exponentially expedite the identification of novel and more efficient therapies to slow or complete stop the progression of this disease.

As part of the Human Cell Atlas Project, Australian scientists created the world’s most detailed gene map of the human retina. Dr. Wong says, “By creating a genetic map of the human retina, we can understand the factors that enable cells to keep functioning and contribute to healthy vision.” The map provides a detailed gene profile of individual retinal cell types that will help us study how those genes impact different kinds of cells. Scientists can have a clear benchmark to assess the quality of the cells derived from stem cells to determine whether they have the correct genetic code which will enable them to function.

What this means for Usher syndrome: By having this atlas of healthy cells and their interconnections, researchers will be able to predict the effect of different drugs to treat eye diseases, including Usher syndrome.

The birth control pill has been found to contain a compound which gives long-term protection against two degenerative eye diseases – glaucoma and retinitis pigmentosa (RP), according to recent research from University College Cork (UCC) scientists in Ireland. The eye protective compound was discovered during a search through all the compounds approved by the FDA for treatment of people with eye diseases. The UCC scientists have found that norgestrel in animal models can provide protection against some common degenerative diseases of the eye.

What this means for Usher syndrome: Based on this study, norgestrel therapy will be a good alternative approach for the prevention of photoreceptor cell death in Usher patients.

Researchers in Germany have recently developed a “retina-on-a-chip” which combines living human cells with an artificial tissue-like system. The scientists describe their work as “merging organoid and organ-on-a-chip technology to generate complex multi-layer tissue models in a human Retina-on-a-Chip platform.” Ophthalmologic drugs largely rely on animal models, which often do not provide results that are translatable to human patients. In this study, researchers present the retina-on-a-chip (RoC), a novel microphysiological model of the human retina integrating more than seven different essential retinal cell-types derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs).

What this means for Usher syndrome: this model can be used to test hundreds of drugs for harmful effects on the “human” retina very quickly and enables scientists to take stem cells from a specific patient and study both the disease and potential treatment in the individual’s own cells.

CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced palindromic repeats) is a cutting-edge genetic editing technique that enables the targeting and editing of specific sequences in the human DNA. CRISPR is known to result in unwanted gene edits that can occur when working with embryos. However, if the edits are done on adult humans and children, no transference occurs, and any potential damage remains to one individual. Allergan and Editas Medicine EDIT, a pharmaceutical company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has announced in July they are ready to enroll subjects into its first of its kind CRISPR-based therapy trials, a development that would involve gene editing inside the human body. A propriety EDIT-101 injection is administrated into the eye to deliver “gene-altering machinery” directly to the photoreceptor cells. Once injected, EDIT-101 cuts out the mutated DNA, including CEP290 gene responsible for progressive photoreceptor-cell loss, which leads to an inherited type of blindness, Leber congenital amaurosis 10. The goal is for this cut to be repair by the DNA-repairing process that will lead to the expression of the normal protein.

What this means for Usher syndrome: potential treatments for vision loss are being discovered every day. In this case, the use of CRISPR technology will help to replace and repair mutations present in the Usher proteins and thus, help to restore vision as well as hearing.

In a new study of patients with Retinitis Pigmentosa, the Keck School of Medicine of USC researchers have found that adapted augmented reality (AR) glasses can improve patients’ mobility by 50% and grasp performance by 70%. Utilizing a different approach by employing assistive technology to enhance natural senses, the team adapted AR glasses that project bright colors onto patients’ retinas, corresponding to nearby obstacles.

What this means for Usher syndrome: we can improve the quality of life for patients with low vision due to retinitis pigmentosa through the use of augmented reality technology.

Drug repurposing is a new and attractive aspect of therapy development that could offer low-cost and accelerated establishment of new treatment options. The enzyme poly-ADP-ribose-polymerase (PARP) has important roles for many forms of DNA repair and it also participates in transcription, chromatin remodeling and cell death signaling. Currently, some PARP inhibitors are approved for cancer therapy, by means of canceling DNA repair processes and cell division.

Excessive PARP activity is also involved in neurodegenerative diseases including the currently untreatable and blinding retinitis pigmentosa group of inherited retinal photoreceptor degenerations. Hence, repurposing of known PARP inhibitors for patients with non-oncological diseases might provide a facilitated route for a novel retinitis pigmentosa therapy.

What this means for Usher syndrome: PARP inhibitors are approved for their use in cancer therapy, suggesting they can be repurposed to treat retinitis pigmentosa at a very low cost and shorter waiting times compared to novel drugs.

Researchers from Sun Yat-sen University are attempting to test the efficacy and safety of oral minocycline for the treatment of retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Minocycline, a second generation, semi-synthetic tetracycline antibiotic, a highly lipophilic molecule and can easily pass through the blood-brain barrier. Several clinical trials and animal experiments have reported that minocycline exert anti-apoptotic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects in treating neurodegenerative diseases. They have proposed to test the effect and safety of oral minocycline for RP.

What this means for Usher syndrome: If clinical trials are successful, Usher patients will have the possibility to be included in this non-invasive therapy to prevent photoreceptor cell death.

To develop biological approaches to restore vision, scientists developed a method of transplanting stem cell-derived retinal tissue into the retina of an animal model, a cat. Human embryonic stem cells were successfully grafted into the retina of cats. The researchers observed strong infiltration of immune cells into the graft and surrounding tissue in the cats treated with prednisolone alone. The cats treated with prednisolone plus cyclosporine A showed better survival and low immune response to the grafts. This work demonstrates the feasibility of engrafting human embryonic stem cell-derived retinal tissue into the retina of large-eye animal models. Transplanting retinal tissue in degenerating cat retina will enable rapid development of preclinical work focused on vision restoration.

What this means for Usher syndrome: This procedure may provide a platform for testing stem cell-based therapies to treat Usher syndrome patients.

A major cause of human blindness is the death of rod photoreceptors. As rods degenerate, synaptic structures between rod and rod bipolar cells disappear and the rod bipolar cells extend their dendrites and occasionally make aberrant contacts. Such changes are broadly observed in blinding disorders caused by photoreceptor cell death and are thought to occur in response to deafferentation. How the remodeled retinal circuit affects visual processing following rod rescue is not known. To address this question, we generated male and female transgenic mice wherein a disrupted cGMP-gated channel (CNG) gene can be repaired at the endogenous locus and at different stages of degeneration by tamoxifen-inducible cre-mediated recombination. In normal rods, light-induced closure of CNG channels leads to hyperpolarization of the cell, reducing neurotransmitter release at the synapse. Similarly, rods lacking CNG channels exhibit a resting membrane potential that was ~10 mV hyperpolarized compared to WT rods, indicating diminished glutamate release. Retinas from these mice undergo stereotypic retinal remodeling as a consequence of rod malfunction and degeneration. Upon tamoxifen-induced expression of CNG channels, rods recovered their structure and exhibited normal light responses. Moreover, we show that the adult mouse retina displays a surprising degree of plasticity upon activation of rod input. Wayward bipolar cell dendrites establish contact with rods to support normal synaptic transmission, which is propagated to the retinal ganglion cells. These findings demonstrate remarkable plasticity extending beyond the developmental period and support efforts to repair or replace defective rods in patients blinded by rod degeneration.

What this means for Usher syndrome: If the same plasticity exists in the human retina, and the communications between bipolar cells and rods can be reestablished, this will suggest that future research can be directed toward the search for new therapies that will increase or accelerate these communications. Within that scenario, Usher patients will benefit in the future since they will be able preserve and restore some of their retinal activity.

Scientists from Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland and Scuola Superiore Sant’ Anna in Italy are developing a technology, OpticSELINE, for the blind that stimulates the optic nerve. The idea is to produce phosphenes, the sensation of seeing light in the form of seeing white patterns, without seeing light directly. Unfortunately, only a few hundred patients qualify for the current retinal implants on the market for clinical reasons. The intraneural electrode is a potential solution to this exclusion, since the optic nerve and the pathway to the brain are often intact. Intraneural electrodes contain an array of 12 electrodes and are more stable and less likely to move around once they are implanted. To understand the effectiveness of the electrodes, scientists delivered electric current to the optic nerve through OpticSELINE and measured the brain’s activity . The stimulation showed each electrode induces a special pattern of cortical activation, suggesting that intraneural stimulation of the optic nerve is selective and informative.

What this means for Usher syndrome: newer technologies such as the OpticSELINE are being developed as potential solutions to help the blind see. It might take some time and several clinical trials to fine-tune those stimulated cortical patterns but as they are now those visual signals generated by the OpticSELINE will be able to provide visual aid in the near future.

The identification of the causes and understandings of the functions of many inherited retinal diseases (IRDs) has led to the development of exciting new gene/disease specific treatment opportunities. There are numerous treatments available that are aimed at a level of not just targeting specific genes but also certain mutations. Therefore, gene/disease specific treatments rely on persistent target cells and sufficient visual function to work effectively. However, many patients are outside of this window of opportunity and must rely on other approaches.

What this means for Usher syndrome: there are many different treatment and therapy options that are in development for retinitis pigmentosa.

Ophthalmology researchers at the University of Louisville have discovered the loss of vision in retinitis pigmentosa is the result of a disruption in the flow of glucose to the rods and cones. Metabolic changes result in the reduced availability of glucose in the cells; thus, starving the photoreceptors of necessary nutrients. Douglas C. Dean PhD stated, “Attacking glucose utilization is a major strategy in fighting lung cancer. This unexpected connection in retinal and lung cancer metabolism has led us to link these seemingly unrelated systems to search for common drugs that target both lung cancer and retinal degeneration."

What this means for Usher syndrome: This connection between lung cancer and retinal degeneration will help us find potential drugs to treat both diseases.

Researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) reported a more sensitive method for capturing the footprint of AAV vectors — the range of sites where the vectors transfer new genetic material. AAV vectors are bioengineered tools that use a harmless virus to transport modified genetic material safely into tissues and cells. To use these vectors safely and effectively, researchers must have a complete picture of where in the body the virus delivers the gene. Current methods to define gene transfer rely on fluorescent reporter genes that glow under a microscope, highlighting cells that take up and express the delivered genetic material. Unfortunately, these methods reveal only cells with stable, high levels of cargo. This new technology provides a better and more sensitive method for researchers to detect where the gene is expressed, even if it is expressed at low levels or for only a short time. To address this gap, Beverly L. Davidson, PhD and her laboratory developed a new AAV screening technique that uses sensitive editing-reporter transgenic mice that are marked even with a short burst of expression.

What this means for Usher syndrome: This new method will help to improve the safety of AAV-gene editing approaches because it better defines sites where the vector expresses the modified gene. AAV-gene editing might be developed into a treatment for Usher syndrome.

Scientists from Okayama University have developed a film coupled with photoelectric dye that generates electric signals in response to light. When the device was placed on an instrument that measures electric potential, the film generated waves of electric signals after being exposed to a flashing light. Researchers have highlighted that the device may function as a “novel type of retinal prosthesis.”

What this means for Usher syndrome: This device might be developed into an implant treatment for vision loss in Usher syndrome.

When a person becomes blind their brain’s visual cortex is typically undamaged, but it is not receiving information from the eyes. Six blind people have now had their vision partially restored thanks to Orion, a new device that feeds images from a camera directly into the brain. The Orion device has two main parts: a brain implant and a pair of glasses. The implant consists of sixty electrodes that receive information from a camera mounted on the glasses. Together, they deliver visual information to the brain; thus, bypassing the eye.

What this means for Usher syndrome: This system might provide vision in Usher syndrome patients who are completely blind.

“Researchers have developed a significantly improved delivery mechanism for the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing method in the liver. The delivery uses biodegradable synthetic lipid nanoparticles that carry the molecular editing tools into the cell to alter the cells’ genetic code precisely with as much as 90 percent efficiency. The nanoparticles could help overcome technical hurdles to enable gene editing in a broad range of clinical therapeutic applications.”

What this means for Usher syndrome: This technique may provide a means for delivering gene therapies to the retina in Usher syndrome patients.

Researchers developed a mouse model with genetically defective rods that mimics developmental blindness disorders in humans. A team examined the structure of the defective retina, as well as its response to light with or without gene therapy. The rods that received gene therapy not only regained normal light response, but also recovered normal connections to other retinal neurons.

What this means for Usher syndrome: If future treatments for Usher syndrome can save photoreceptors from dying, the saved cells may be able to reconnect and become functional.

A new study shows that the complement system, part of the innate immune system, plays a protective role to slow the retinal degeneration in a mouse model of retinitis pigmentosa (RP). This discovery contradicts previous studies of other eye diseases suggesting that the complement system worsens retinal degeneration. Utilizing a mouse model, the researchers examined the role of C3 and CR3, the central component of complement and its receptor, by comparing mice with genetically removed C3 or CR3 to normal mice. They found that degeneration worsened in the absence of C3 or CR3. Rod photoreceptors, the light-sensing cells that die first in RP, were lost along with a surge in the expression of neurotoxic inflammatory cytokines. According to Dr. Wong, “Breakdown of this C3-CR3 interaction results in a decreased ability of microglia to phagocytose dead photoreceptors, which then accumulate in the retina, stimulating greater inflammation and degeneration.” These results demonstrate that complement activation is helpful for clearing away dead cells and “maintaining a state of homeostasis, a physiological balance, in the retina.”

What this means for Usher syndrome: this study demonstrates the fundamental role the complement system, part of the immune system, plays in countering retina degeneration.

This study discovered that a classic anti-malarial drug can help sensory cells of the inner ear recognize and transport the Clarin-1 protein to its normal location in the cell. Usher syndrome 3A is due to mutations in Clarin-1. The researchers found that the mutant Clarin-1 protein is not transported properly and then tested drugs that target the transport system. They found that the drug, artemisinin, restores inner ear sensory cell function, and thus hearing and balance, in zebrafish genetically engineered to have mutant human versions of the Clarin-1 protein.

What this means for Usher syndrome: This study identifies a drug that might be useful for treating hearing loss in Usher syndrome 3A patients.

This study aims to analyze the effect of nutraceutical molecules with antioxidant properties, on progression of the disease in an established animal model with retinitis pigmentosa (RP). We saw that long-term treatment with a flavanone (naringenin) or flavanol (quercetin) present in citrus fruits, grapes, and apples, preserves retinal functionality. These two molecules possess antioxidant properties, limiting neurodegeneration, and thus preventing cone damage.

What this means for Usher syndrome: If this treatment preserves cone functionality, it could slow vision loss in Usher syndrome patients.

OliX Pharmaceuticals Inc., a leading developer of RNAi therapeutics announced today an expansion of its ocular disease pipeline. OLX304A has been developed as an RNAi therapeutic with an undisclosed target for the treatment of Retinitis Pigmentosa. OLX304A is a program to develop a treatment that targets a single gene for patients with Retinitis Pigmentosa regardless of their disease-causing mutation. This treatment is different from conventional strategies that focus on targeting individual disease-causing genes.

What this means for Usher syndrome: This strategy could result in a single type of treatment that could help all Usher syndrome patients.

GenSight Biologics, a biopharma company focused on discovering and developing gene therapies for retinal neurodegenerative diseases and central nervous system disorders, announced that the independent Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) has completed its first safety review of the ongoing PIONEER Phase I/II clinical trial of GS030 combining gene therapy and optogenetics for the treatment of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). No safety issues have been found for the first cohort of subjects who received a single intravitreal injection of 5e10 vg combined with a wearable optronic visual stimulation device. Therefore, the DSMB has recommended moving forward with the plan without any modification to the protocol and recruiting the second cohort of subjects to receive an escalated dose of 1.5e11 vg.

What this means for Usher syndrome: This clinical trial could lead to a treatment for RP and may be applicable to Usher syndrome.

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine, the Cardiovascular Research Institute and the Texas Heart Institute have discovered that although the mammalian retina—a layer of specialized nerve cells that mediates vision and is located on the back of the eye—does not spontaneously regenerate, it has a regenerative capacity that is kept dormant by a cellular mechanism called the Hippo pathway. The retina does not regenerate in humans, but other animals such as zebrafish can reverse blindness due to specialized cells in their retina, Müller glial cells. When the retina is damaged, the Müller glial cells multiply and become the lost retinal neurons—replacing injured cells with functional ones. Although Müller glial cells do not restore vision in humans, research has shown that when the retina is injured, “a small subset of Müller glial cells takes the first steps needed to enter the proliferation cycle, such as acquiring molecular markers scientists expect to see in a proliferating cell.”

What this means for Usher syndrome: Discovery of the Hippo pathway suggests that it may be possible to activate the retina’s ability to restore vision loss by manipulating this pathway.

Eloxx Pharmaceuticals is developing small molecules that permit read-through of point mutations that cause Usher syndrome 1F and 2A. Eloxx has entered into a partnership with the Foundation Fighting Blindness and is developing molecules that “read through” nonsense mutations. Scientists believe that approximately 10% of all the gene mutations across all known inherited retinal diseases are nonsense. Therefore, the “read through” molecules have the potential to help many people.

What this means for Usher syndrome: A subset of Usher syndrome patients, those with nonsense mutations, might be helped by this therapy.

ReNeuron Group plc has announced the latest updated positive preliminary results in the company’s ongoing phase 1 and 2a clinical trial of its human retinal progenitor cell (hRPC) therapy candidate in retinitis pigmentosa. All three subjects in the first group of phase 2a have demonstrated a sustained and further improvement in vision compared to their pre-treatment baseline.

What this means for Usher syndrome: This potential therapy could provide a means to restore lost vision in Usher syndrome patients.

2Ctech Inc, a privately-held development stage company focused on the application of nanoparticle technologies for the treatment of retinal diseases, announced its first-known clinical program to demonstrate the effectiveness and safety of Quantum Dots (QDs) to achieve photovoltaic stimulation of the neural retina for preservation or enhancement of vision in patients with retinal degenerative diseases. QDs are semiconductor crystalline structures that absorb light and generate a dipole electrical field; thus, stimulating the neuronal retina cells. These particles are similar to solar cells, which produce energy in response to light. In the layers of the retina, the particle emissions are intended to result in direct stimulation of the neural retina, “creating action potentials that trigger the normal neural pathways to the brain.

What this means for Usher syndrome: This new technology holds promise to provide a means to restore lost vision in Usher syndrome patients.

Karen Andersen, Samira Kiani and their colleagues at Arizona State University described a method of rendering the CRISPR-Case9 gene-editing tool “immunosilent,” potentially allowing the editing and repair of genes to be accomplished reliably and without activating an immune response. Their study is the first to predict accurately the dominant binding sites or epitopes responsible for immune recognition of the Cas9 protein and experimentally target them for modification. These findings bring CRISPR a step closer to a safer clinical application.

What this means for Usher syndrome: This discovery could help pave the way toward FDA approval of CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing therapies to treat Usher syndrome.

Ophthotech has licensed exclusive rights to develop novel adeno-associated virus (AAV) gene therapy candidates for Best disease and other bestrophinopathies from University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and the University of Florida Research Foundation (UFRF). The agreement allowed Ophthotech to enter talks with Penn and UFRF to acquire a license for novel AAV serotype 2 based gene therapy product candidates for Best disease, an orphan inherited degenerative retinal disease caused by mutations in the BESTI gene. Additionally, Ophthotech says it expects to initiate a Phase I/II clinical trial for the Best disease candidate in the first half of 2021.

What this means for Usher syndrome: If the first clinical trials for Best disease using this novel AVV gene therapy are successful, this means Ophthotech will probably look for other eye-related diseases like Usher syndrome.

RNA, the short-lived cousin to its better-known partner, DNA, is the blueprint for protein production in cells. Joshua Rosenthal told researchers about how the squid and octopuses make prolific use of an enzyme called ADAR to catalyze thousands of single-letter changes to the RNA code. These minor edits alter the structure and activity of proteins that control electrical impulses in the animals’ nerves. Rosenthal’s studies on squids inspired him to hijack ADAR and program it for making precise edits to the human RNA. Additionally, the editing of RNA is reversible, since cells are constantly churning out new copies of RNA. If Rosenthal’s RNA editors work in humans, they could be used repeatedly to treat genetic diseases without confronting the unknown, long-term risks of permanent DNA editing with CRISPR.

What this means for Usher syndrome: Although too early to say, RNA-reversibly editing can develop in an alternative strategy for the repair of point mutations in Usher genes.

Adeno-associated viruses (AAV) engineered to target specific cells into the retina can be injected directly into the vitreous of the eye to deliver genes more precisely than with wild type AAVs, which must be injected directly under the retina. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley inserted a gene for a green-light receptor into the eyes of blind mice, and a month later the mice could maneuver obstacles as easily as mice without visual impairments. The mice could use motion, brightness changes over time, and fine detail on an iPad.

What this means for Usher syndrome: Retinal delivery of AAV can always have the adverse effects of tissue inflammation and/or retinal detachment. This new strategy, delivering the modified virus into the vitreous, will prevent those side effects. For Usher patients, this means that, if successful, this therapy will increase the probability of success in restoring vision.

Stem cells are cells that have the capability of becoming any type of cells in an organism and in the right environment. Researchers are trying to use stem cell therapy to replace lost photoreceptors and preserve residual photoreceptors during retinal degeneration. One of the problems is that the degenerative microenvironment that already exists in the diseased retina compromises the fate of grafted cells. The desired donor cells will need to have both proper regenerative capability and the ability to improve their own microenvironment. For this purpose, the authors of the present work used specific cell surface molecules that help to kill tumorigenic embryonic cells and at the same time enrich retinal progenitor cells. The retinal progenitors were obtained from embryonic stem cells derived from retinal organoids (three dimensional structures derived from pluripotent cells) that were grafted into retinal degeneration rat and mouse models. After three months post-treatment, those animals showed a 40% increase in healthy photoreceptor cells and a decrease in inflammatory molecules, demonstrating the importance of a healthier environment for the grafted cells.

What this means for Usher syndrome: These two features of the organoid systems, regenerative capability and generation of a healthier microenvironment, will, very likely, benefit Usher patients as an additional therapy to delay or prevent photoreceptor loss.

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.

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.

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.

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 Bertarelli Foundation has awarded collaborative research grants to four teams of scientists from Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology in Basel, Switzerland, all focused on understanding and treating some of the most devastating sensory disorders such as Usher syndrome. Two HMS neurobiologists, studying the origins of deafness—David Corey and Arthur Indzhykulian—are joining forces with Botond Roska, an expert on retinal biology and eye disease at the Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology in Basel, Switzerland to develop treatments for Usher syndrome type 1F. The researchers will focus on developing gene therapy aimed at overcoming a hurdle that has hindered therapeutic efforts so far: the unusually large Usher 1F protein.

What this means for Usher syndrome: This research could open the door for development of therapies to treat Usher 1F.

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.

Research suggests that the herb, cannabis, impacts every organ in the body including the eyes. Cannabis compounds work their magic in the eyes by interacting with one of the largest cellular communication networks—endocannabinoid system (ECS)—in vertebrates. Cannabis compounds interact with the ECS by engaging the cannabinoid receptor. By manipulating the cannabinoid receptors, we can change the way electroretinographic waves pass through the retina. In 2014, research published in Experimental Eye Research suggested that cannabis medicines may be able to slow down degenerative blindness by preventing the death of photoreceptors in those with retinitis pigmentosa.

What this means for Usher Syndrome: Patients with Usher syndrome may benefit from cannabis therapies by slowing down the progression of retinitis pigmentosa.

Link to Experimental Eye Research publication

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.

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.

Sparing Vision, a French biotech, plans to use a naturally occurring protein called rod-derived cone-viability factor, which binds to a peptide on cone photoreceptor cells in the retina and allows more glucose to enter the cell. By allowing more glucose in, it will slow down or prevent cell death; thus stopping vision loss. This could be beneficial for patients with retinitis pigmentosa.

The nonprofit biomedical institute is seeking to acquire samples of every drug ever developed to see if they can be used to treat diseases besides those for which they were intended. That means collecting roughly 10,000 to 11,000 compounds discovered since the end of the 19th century. Most never made it to market, often because they weren’t effective or had unexpected side effects.

ProQR Therapeutics N.V. announced the results for their clinical trial of QR-110 LCA 10 is on track, and eight out of twelve patients have been enrolled in a Phase 1/2 trial. The results for safety and efficacy for the trial are expected to be announced in the second half of 2018. Currently, they planing to announce data from a QR-421 study for Usher Syndrome. The organization has received $7.5 million in funding from the Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB) and hopes to use QR-421a for Usher Syndrome Type 2A to target mutations in exon 13.

For the last couple years, Ophthalmologist Dr. Kang Zhang and UC San Diego researchers have been working with CRISPR by injecting it into the eyes of mice with Retinitis Pigmentosa. According to Dr. Zhang, they have been able to bring back 30 percent of vision and sometimes 50 percent of vision. Zhang’s lab has recently received the green light to start clinical trials this fall and if the trial goes well then CRISPR can be applied to all human genetic diseases or conditions.

Researchers at Duke University believe they have developed an approach to treat retinal conditions such as Retinitis Pigmentosa, which include misfolded proteins in the cell that the eye cannot process. Scientists have shown by boosting the cells’ ability to process misfolded proteins could keep them from clustering inside the cell. They created and tested the strategy in mice, significantly delaying the onset of blindness. This technique would not be used to prevent cell death retinal diseases but also neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.

David Rand, Marie Jakešová, Gur Lubin, Ieva Vėbraitė, Moshe David-Pur, Vedran Đerek, Tobias Cramer, Niyazi Serdar Sariciftci, Yael Hanein, Eric Daniel Głowacki

A simple retinal prosthesis is being developed in collaboration between Tel Aviv University in Israel and Linköping University in Sweden. Fabricated using cheap and widely-available organic pigments used in printing inks and cosmetics, it consists of tiny pixels like a digital camera sensor on a nanometric scale. Researchers hope that it can restore sight to blind people.

Ekaterina S. Lobanova, Stella Finkelstein, Jing Li, Amanda M. Travis, Ying Hao, Mikael Klingeborn, Nikolai P. Skiba, Raymond J. Deshaies, Vadim Y. Arshavsky

New research outlines a strategy that in mouse models significantly delayed the onset of blindness from inherited retinal degeneration such as retinitis pigmentosa.

Bill Whitaker of CBS’s 60 minutes interviewed Feng Zeng to learn more about Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR). Whitaker’s interview with Zhang provides basic facts that are accessible to anyone on CRISPR and its possibility of not only curing genetic diseases but preventing them altogether.

An Ottawa-based company, iBionics, is working to improve the effectiveness of vision-restoring technology by developing a bionic retina, the Diamond Eye implant. iBionics is targeting for full approval and commercial availability by 2024.

One of these recent discoveries doesn't replace an entire eye, but supplants a major component of vision. It holds some promise for millions of people who could otherwise go blind. In a first, scientists in China have created artificial photoreceptors to help blind mice see.

ReNeuron, a developer of cell-based therapeutics, received a $1.5 million grant award from the UK Innovations agency. The project will allow further development of cell banks of ReNeuron’s hRPC candidate and as well as the development of product release assays for late-stage clinical development. The hRPC therapy is currently being tested in a Phase III clinical trial in the US for patients suffering retinitis pigmentosa.

A retinal implant allowed a 69 year old woman with macular degeneration to see more than double the usual number of letters on the vision chart. Luxturna, the gene therapy was approved by the FDA in 2017, corrects a mutation found in Leber congential amaurosis (LCA).

Caroline C. W. Klaver, MD, PhD; Alberta A. H. J. Thiadens, MD, PhD

Children with retinitis pigmentosa who received vitamin A supplementation were associated with slower rate of cone electroretinogram amplitude compared to children who did not, a small study found.

This story is designed to help you find an answer to the question: will a stem cell therapy work for me? To get an answer, Dr. Mary Sunderland of the Foundation Fighting Blindness Canada, suggests that you pay attention to three key points when you read new stories about stem cell discoveries or clinical trials...

Rajiv Gandhi Govindaraj, Misagh Naderi, Manali Singha, Jeffrey Lemoine, Michal Brylinski

Researchers at the LSU Computational Systems Biology group have developed a sophisticated and systematic way to identify existing drugs that can be repositioned to treat a rare disease or condition. They have fine-tuned a computer-assisted drug repositioning process that can save time and money in helping these patients receive effective treatment.

Odylia Therapeutics aims to advance gene therapies that are getting left behind. Odylia’s focus is gene therapies with scientific promise but limited commercial opportunity that maybe gathering dust on the selves of labs or companies.

Three blind mice could be a thing of the past. Scientists have restored the sight of blind mice by implanting tiny gold prosthetic photoreceptors into their eyes. So far, this incredible technique has only been carried out on mice. However, the work holds some hope for people with degenerative eye diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa or macular degeneration.

Pixium Vision, a company developing innovative bionic vision systems to enable patients who have lost their sight to lead more independent lives, announces today the world’s first successful human implantation and activation of PRIMA, its new generation miniaturized wireless photovoltaic sub-retinal implant, in a patient with severe vision loss from atrophic dry Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

A French biopharma company has announced their plans to carry out human trials of a new treatment that would insert genes from light-seeking algae into the eyes of patients with inherited blindness in order to help them regain sight. The treatment involves optogenetics, a technique that converts nerve cells into light sensitive cells.

GenSight will start a clinical trial in the UK testing a combination of gene therapy and a wearable device to restore sight in patients with retinitis pigmentosa. The Phase I and II trial, PIONEER, will study the safety and tolerability of GenSight’s therapy called GS030, in patients with end-stage retinitis pigmentosa with vision not better than “counting fingers.” The first patient will be tested in the first quarter of 2018 and outcomes will be measured after a year.

What this means for Usher syndrome: If GenSight’s therapy succeeds, it will very likely be tested in other diseases such as Usher syndrome.

GenSight Biologics, a biopharma company focused on discovering and developing innovative gene therapies for retinal neurodegenerative diseases and central nervous system disorders, announced UK Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) acceptance of the Company’s Clinical Trial Application (CTA) to initiate the PIONEER Phase I/II study of GS030 in patients with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP).

Raghavi Sudharsan, Daniel P. Beiting, Gustavo D. Aguirre, William A. Beltran

In studying the late stages of disease in two different canine models of retinitis pigmentosa, a group of progressive and inherited blinding diseases, researchers found commonalities, specifically involving the innate immune system. The findings point to potential new treatment options for the conditions.

jCyte, one of the leaders in developing cell-based therapies for RP, announces positive 12-month results from its Phase 1/2a clinical trial to treat retinitis pigmentosa with stem cells.

Usher syndrome is the most common cause of deafness associated with visual loss of a genetic origin. The purpose of this paper is to report very severe phenotypic features of type 1B Usher syndrome in a Saudi family affected by a positive homozygous splice site mutation in MYO7A gene. This mutation manifested with advanced retinal degeneration at a young age.

What this means for Usher syndrome: Individuals with this particular mutation may experience more severe symptoms than other Usher 1B patients.

Geng R, Omar A., Gopal SR, Chen DH, Stepanyan R, Basch ML, Dinculescu A, Furness DN, Saperstein D, Hauswirth W, Lustig LR, Alagramam KN

Researchers developed a new USH3 mouse model that displays delayed-onset progressive hearing loss, then tested a viral therapy to preserve hearing in the mouse models. Their results show that gene therapy is a promising approach to preserve hearing in USH3 patients.

Samantha R. De Silva, Alun R. Barnard, Steven Hughes, Shu K. E. Tam, Chris Martin, Mandeep S. Singh, Alona O. Barnea-Cramer, Michelle E. McClements, Matthew J. During, Stuart N. Peirson, Mark W. Hankins and Robert E. MacLaren

Oxford researchers have shown that gene therapy might help reverse blindness caused by retinitis pigmentosa by reprogramming cells at the back of the eye to become light sensitive.

View the journal publication of this study: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/09/26/1701589114

Alice Emptoz, Vincent Michel, Andrea Lelli, Omar Akil, Jacques Boutet de Monvel, Ghizlene Lahlou, Anaïs Meyer, Typhaine Dupont, Sylvie Nouaille, Elody Ey, Filipa Franca de Barros, Mathieu Beraneck, Didier Dulon, Jean-Pierre Hardelin, Lawrence Lustig, Paul Avan, Christine Petit, Saaid Safieddine

Scientists have recently restored hearing and balance in a mouse model of Usher syndrome type 1G characterized by profound congenital deafness and vestibular disorders caused by severe dysmorphogenesis of the mechanoelectrical transduction apparatus of the inner ear's sensory cells. These findings open up new possibilities for the development of gene therapy treatments for hereditary forms of deafness.

Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in June, Cochlear’s Nucleus 7 Sound Processor can now stream sound directly from a compatible iPhone, iPad or iPod touch to the sound processor.

Nikolas L. Jorstad, Matthew S. Wilken, William N. Grimes, Stefanie G. Wohl, Leah S. VandenBosch, Takeshi Yoshimatsu, Rachel O. Wong, Fred Rieke, & Thomas A. Reh

NEI-funded researchers use a clue from zebrafish to discover the cues that reprogram Müller glia into retinal neurons.

Sarath Vijayakumar Frederic F. Depreux Francine M. Jodelka Jennifer J. Lentz Frank Rigo Timothy A. Jones Michelle L. Hastings.

These findings provide the first direct evidence of an effective treatment of peripheral vestibular function in a mouse model of USH1C and reveal the potential for using antisense technology to treat vestibular dysfunction.

Scientists at the Boston Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School have spent several years refining a technique to repair one of the common genetic disorders that cause deafness, offering hope to millions. The genetic disorder they repaired is Usher syndrome.

Encouraging signs this week that the FDA is serious when it granted Regenerative Medicine Advanced Therapy (RMAT) status to the CIRM-funded jCyte clinical trial for a rare form of blindness. This is a big deal because RMAT seeks to accelerate approval for stem cell therapies that demonstrate they can help patients with unmet medical needs.

Jie Zhu, Chang Ming, Xin Fu, Yaou Duan, Duc Anh Hoang, Jeffrey Rutgard, Runze Zhang, Wenqiu Wang, Rui Hou, Daniel Zhang, Edward Zhang, Charlotte Zhang, Xiaoke Hao, Wenjun Xiong, Kang Zhang.

Using the gene-editing tool CRISPR/Cas9, researchers have reprogrammed mutated rod photoreceptors to become functioning cone photoreceptors, reversing cellular degeneration and restoring visual function in two mouse models of retinitis pigmentosa.

For more information on this study: https://www.nature.com/cr/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/cr201757a.html

Researchers from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine showed that gene therapy was able to restore balance and hearing in genetically modified mice that mimic Usher Syndrome.

Kevin Isgrig, Jack W. Shteamer, Inna A. Belyantseva, Meghan C. Drummond, Tracy S. Fitzgerald, Sarath Vijayakumar, Sherri M. Jones, Andrew J. Griffith, Thomas B. Friedman, Lisa L. Cunningham, Wade W. Chien

For more information on this study: http://www.cell.com/molecular-therapy-family/molecular-therapy/fulltext/S1525-0016(17)30013-8

Foundation Fighting Blindness Press Release (Columbia, MD) - A Cautionary Tale About the Need to Educate Patients and Advance Research to Produce Treatments with Proven Efficacy, Says Foundation Fighting Blindness

Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and colleagues from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed an approach to replace damaged sound-sensing hair cells, which eventually may lead to therapies for people who live with disabling hearing loss.

Allergan and Editas Medicine have made an alliance to work with the gene-editing CRISPR to help prevent vision deterioration.

In this study, researchers introduced CRISPR into retinal cells, tested this genome tool to remove the Nrl gene in mice and three different mouse models of retinal degeneration. By measuring gene expression and examining the retinal cells, the researchers confirmed that rods became more cone-like, as predicted which allowed for rod degeneration to be prevented or slowed.

Yu W, Mookherjee S, Chaitankar V, Hiriyanna S, Kim JW, Brooks M, Ataeijiannati Y, Sun X, Dong L, Li T, Swaroop A, Wu Z

For more information on this study: http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms14716

Scientists have developed a retinal implant that can restore lost vision in rats, and are planning to trial the procedure in humans later this year. The implant, which converts light into an electrical signal that stimulates retinal neurons, could give hope to millions who experience retinal degeneration – including retinitis pigmentosa – in which photoreceptor cells in the eye begin to break down, leading to blindness.

Researchers are working to find how fish can regenerate their eyes after they have been injured and if there is a way to make this happen the same way in a human eye.

Scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), MIT, and Massachusetts Eye and Ear believe they may have found a way to treat hearing loss by regenerating hair cells in the inner ear and hope to begin clinical trials in 18 months.

The prestigious Institute of Ocular Microsurgery in Barcelona implanted the first patient in Spain with IRIS® II, a bionic vision system equipped with a bio-inspired camera and a 150-electrode epi-retinal implant that is designed to be explantable.

Not just Star Trek fiction, a new visor from eSight is a lightweight, high-contrast vision system for legally blind people.

Chimeras are incredibly useful for understanding how animals grow and develop. They might one day be used to grow life-saving organs that can be transplanted into humans.

Lukas D Landegger, Bifeng Pan, Charles Askew, Sarah J Wassmer, Sarah D Gluck, Alice Galvin, Ruth Taylor, Andrew Forge, Konstantina M Stankovic, Jeffrey R Holt & Luk H Vandenberghe.

Two back-to-back papers in Nature Biotechnology describe how a team at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School developed a new vector for gene delivery and restored hearing and balance in a mouse model with the Ush1c mutation.

Bifeng Pan, Charles Askew, Alice Galvin, Selena Heman-Ackah, Yukako Asai, Artur A Indzhykulian, Francine M Jodelka, Michelle L Hastings, Jennifer J Lentz, Luk H Vandenberghe, Jeffrey R Holt& Gwenaëlle S Géléoc.

Working with a mouse model of a human mutation, Dr. Gwen Géléoc and colleagues delivered a normal copy of the USH1C gene to the inner ear soon after the mice were born, which led to robust improvements enabling profoundly deaf and dizzy mice to hear sounds at the level of whispers and recover proper balance function.

The FDA has granted GenSight’s developing drug, GS030, Orphan Drug Disease Designation for the treatment of retinitis pigmentosa.

The Foundation Fighting Blindness Clinical Research Institute (FFB-CRI) has announced an investment of up to $7.5 million to advance the potential therapy into and through a Phase II clinical trial for the usage of N-acetylcysteine-amide (NACA). NACA has recently emerged as a promising drug for Retinitis Pigmentosa because in several FFB-funded lab studies at Johns Hopkins University, it has slowed down retinal degeneration.

Researchers have discovered a holy grail of gene editing -- the ability to, for the first time, insert DNA at a target location into the non-dividing cells that make up the majority of adult organs and tissues. The technique, which the team showed was able to partially restore visual responses in blind rodents, will open new avenues for basic research and a variety of treatments, such as for retinal, heart and neurological diseases.

Frederic F. Depreux, Lingyan Wang, Han Jiang, Francine M. Jodelka, Robert F. Rosencrans, Frank Rigo, Jennifer J. Lentz, John V. Brigande and Michelle L. Hastings.

ASO delivery to the intra-amniotic cavity modulates neonatal gene expression and may serve as a therapeutic intervention in itself or when paired with a suitable postnatal therapeutic strategy. Further optimization of the method will broaden the potential impact and applicability of this approach.

Qing Fu, Mingchu Xu, Xue Chen, Xunlun Sheng, Zhisheng Yuan, Yani Liu, Huajin Li, Zixi Sun, Huiping Li, Lizhu Yang, Keqing Wang, Fangxia Zhang ,Yumei Li, Chen Zhao, Ruifang Sui, Rui Chen.

This study aimed to identify the novel disease-causing gene of a distinct subtype of Usher syndrome.

Zong, Chen, Wu, Liu, Jiang.

Identification of novel mutation in compound heterozygosity in MYO7A gene revealed the genetic origin of Usher syndrome type 2 in this Han family.

Tongchao Li, Nikolaos Giagtzoglou, Dan Eberl, Sonal Nagarkar-Jaiswal, Tiantian Cai, Dorothea Godt, Andrew K Groves, Hugo J Bellen.

Myosins play essential roles in the development and function of auditory organs and multiple myosin genes are associated with hereditary forms of deafness. Our work reveals a novel mechanism that regulates protein complexes affected in two forms of syndromic deafness and suggests a molecular function for Myosin IIa in auditory organs.

João Carlos Ribeiro, Bárbara Oliveiros, Paulo Pereira, Natália António, Thomas Hummel, António Paiva & Eduardo D. Silva

Study aimed at identifying and characterizing putative differences in olfactory capacity between patients with USH and controls, as well as among the subtypes of USH.

Kumar N Alagramam, Suhasini R Gopal, Ruishuang Geng, Daniel H-C Chen, Ina Nemet, Richard Lee, Guilian Tian, Masaru Miyagi, Karine F Malagu, Christopher J Lock, William R K Esmieu, Andrew P Owens, Nicola A Lindsay, Krista Ouwehand, Faywell Albertus, David F Fischer, Roland W Bürli, Angus M MacLeod, William E Harte, Krzysztof Palczewski & Yoshikazu Imanishi.

A new study published in Nature Chemical Biology reports the first small molecule targeted therapy for progressive hearing loss in a mouse model of USH3, an USH classified by progressive loss of hearing and vision starting in the first few decades of life along with variable balance disorder.

Guilian Tian, Richard Lee, Philip Ropelewski, and Yoshikazu Imanishi

The purpose of this study was to obtain an Usher syndrome type III mouse model with retinal phenotype.

Researchers study genotype–phenotype correlations and compared visual prognosis in Usher syndrome type IIa and nonsyndromic RP.

In the next month, scientists from RetroSense Therapeutics will inject a virus deep into the retina of legally blind human volunteers. If this works, it means that optogenetics — a revolutionary neuroscience technique using channelrhodopsin-2 and other light-activated proteins — is feasible in humans as therapy.

Astra Dinculescu, Rachel M. Stupay , Wen-Tao Deng, Frank M. Dyka, Seok-Hong Min, Sanford L. Boye, Vince A. Chiodo, Carolina E. Abrahan, Ping Zhu, Qiuhong Li, Enrica Strettoi, Elena Novelli, Kerstin Nagel-Wolfrum, Uwe Wolfrum, W. Clay Smith, William W. Hauswirth.

The ongoing challenge to develop an animal model mimicking the effects of Usher III (in particular, the loss of vision) makes it impossible for researchers to test therapies in development using conventional means. This study has important implications for designing gene therapy studies in a rational manner, to produce Clarin-1 in the correct cell type and at levels that mimic its natural production.

Hidekane Yoshimura, Maiko Miyagawa, Kozo Kumakawa, Shin-ya Nishio, and Shin-ichi Usami.

This first report describing the frequency (1.3–2.2%) of USH1 among non-syndromic deaf children highlights the importance of comprehensive genetic testing for early disease diagnosis.

Maha S. Zaki, Raoul Heller, Michaela Thoenes, Gudrun Nürnberg, Gabi Stern-Schneider, Peter Nürnberg, Srikanth Karnati, Daniel Swan, Ekram Fateen, Kerstin Nagel-Wolfrum, Mostafa I. Mostafa, Holger Thiele, Uwe Wolfrum, Eveline Baumgart-Vogt, Hanno J. Bolz.

This paper found that a family with severe enamel dysplasia that was initially diagnosed with Usher syndrome didn’t have Usher syndrome but instead had mutations in the PEX6 gene.

Lichun Jiang, Xiaofang Liang, Yumei Li, Jing Wang, Jacques Eric Zaneveld, Hui Wang, Shan Xu, Keqing Wang, Binbin Wang, Rui Chen and Ruifang Sui.

Researchers applied next generation sequencing to characterize the mutation spectrum in 67 independent Chinese families with at least one member diagnosed with USH.

Zhai, Jin, Gong, Qu, Zhao, Li

Ophthalmic examinations and audiometric tests were performed to identify the pathogenic mutations in a Chinese pedigree affected with Usher syndrome type II (USH2), which revealed distinguished clinical phenotypes associated with MYO7A and expanded the spectrum of clinical phenotypes of the MYO7A mutations.

Massachusetts researchers have made a significant advancement toward a gene therapy treatment that would reverse deafness.

Researchers investigated the proportion of exon deletions and duplications in PCDH15 and USH2A in 20 USH1 and 30 USH2 patients from Denmark.

Debra A. Thompson, Robin R. Ali, Eyal Banin, Kari E. Branham, John G. Flannery, David M. Gamm, William W. Hauswirth, John R. Heckenlively, Alessandro Iannaccone, K. Thiran Jayasundera, Naheed W. Khan, Robert S. Molday, Mark E. Pennesi, Thomas A. Reh,Richard G. Weleber, David N. Zacks, and for the Monaciano Consortium.

The present position paper outlines recent progress in gene therapy and cell therapy for this group of disorders [retinal dystrophies], and presents a set of recommendations for addressing the challenges remaining for the coming decade.

Rajarshi Ghosh, Wang Likun, Eric S. Wang, B. Gayani K. Perera, Aeid Igbaria, Shuhei Morita, Kris Prado, Maike Thamsen, Deborah Caswell, Hector Macias, Kurt F. Weiberth, Micah J. Gliedt, Marcel V. Alavi, Sanjay B. Hari, Arinjay K. Mitra, Barun Bhhatarai, Stephan C. Schürer, Erik L. Snapp, Douglas B. Gould, Michael S. German, Bradley J. Backes, Dustin J. Maly, Scott A. Oakes, and Feroz R. Papa.

Allosteric inhibition of the IRE1α RNase preserves cell viability and function during endoplasmic reticulum stress.
New research shows that modifying a particular protein, IRE1, can put off cell death.

Ben Shaberman provides an overview of emerging therapies for Usher syndrome in the article "Saving Vision for People with Usher Syndrome" in the July/August 2014 edition of Hearing Loss Magazine.

"A highly potent synthetic form of THC, the substance in marijuana that produces a high for users, has shown strong vision-preserving effects in rats with a form of autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa (adRP). ”

Dr Liz Ellis and Dr Liz Hodges.

This research report, funded by Sense, presents the lives of people with Usher syndrome, showing the impact of the diagnosis on their experiences; education, communication, employment, friends and family, mobility – across all areas of their lives. This report aimed to explore the questions: What do people with Usher think about having Usher syndrome? What is the effect of change on the lives of people with Usher? What do people with Usher remember of their diagnosis and what impact did it have on them?

Foundation Fighting Blindness' deputy chief research officer, Dr. Brian Mansfield, explains how retinal researchers are working with induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC), a patient's own skin cells, to gain a better understanding of the RP caused by defects in the gene USH2A. This basic research provides critical information for developing future treatments.

Steele-Stallard, Le Quesne Stabej P, Lenassi E, Luxon LM, Claustres M, Roux AF, Webster AR, Bitner-Glindzicz M..

Screening for duplications, deletions and a common intronic mutation detects 35% of second mutations in patients with USH2A monoallelic mutations on Sanger sequencing. An overview of a study to improve the molecular diagnosis in families with USH2A by screening USH2A for duplications.

Berth Danermark, Claes Moller, Kerstin Moller, Moa Wahlqvist.

The objectives of the study reported here were to describe the physical and psychological health of persons with Usher syndrome Type II (USH2) and to explore any differences in terms of gender.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison developed an innovative process to transform skin cells into retinal cells — cells that hold great promise for restoring vision.

Danish research by Ph.D. Jesper Dammeyer, in cooperation with educational consultant Bente Ramsing, shows that more than half of all children with Usher Syndrome develop symptoms of psychosocial dissatisfaction before the age of 18.

Jennifer J Lentz, Francine M Jodelka, Anthony J Hinrich, Kate E McCaffrey, Hamilton E Farris, Matthew J Spalitta, Nicolas G Bazan, Dominik M Duelli, Frank Rigo & Michelle L Hastings

New research shows that hearing and vestibular function can be rescued in a mouse model of Usher 1c using an antisense oligonucleotide.

A new study questions whether gene therapy to treat Leber congenital amaurosis type 2 (LCA2) actually saves the rods and cones, the photoreceptor cells that provide vision.

According to scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, "Doctors may one day treat some forms of blindness by altering the genetic program of the light-sensing cells of the eye."

"Ray of hope for human Usher syndrome patients": Uwe Wolfrum and his colleagues at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz are increasing our understanding of Usher syndrome.

Three patients have been treated so far with no serious adverse events after six months. They have been allowed to proceed to delivering a larger dose to the next group of patients.

A team of researchers from multiple institutions reported a novel type of gene (CIB2) associated with Usher syndrome in the November 2012 issue of Nature Genetics.

BioDiem has strengthened the preclinical case for its BDM-E eye disease drug with further positive results from formal studies that will help progress out-licensing opportunities for the drug. BDM-E has received Orphan Drug designation from the United States Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of the inherited degenerative eye disorder, retinitis pigmentosa.

ReNeuron, a stem cell development company in the United Kingdom, is planning to file for regulatory approval in late 2013 to launch a clinical trial of a stem cell treatment for people with retinitis pigmentosa

Researchers conducting a genetic study of Old Order Amish and Mennonite populations have identified five new genes in which defects cause congenital diseases, including a previously unidentified type of Usher syndrome, type 3B.

There have been studies done on the mental health of adults with Usher, but few on children with Usher. This study looked at 26 children in Denmark and investigated the frequency of mental and behavioral issues among the group. Published 27 March 2012.

"Gene therapy 'gave me sight back'" An article from the BBC about the impact of gene therapy on patients with LCA. Similar gene therapies are planned for people with Usher.

"Researchers from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders and the National Eye Institute have now found that an alteration of an Usher gene that causes only deafness can preserve sight and balance when in combination with another alteration of the same gene that causes Usher syndrome, or deaf-blindness. This research has important implications for genetic counselors and may open new prospects for future therapies for vision loss."

This study, conducted in mice modelling the human disease retinitis pigmentosa, showed that the drug norgestrel could "rescue" light-detecting retinal cells. The synthetic progestin hormone, an active component of the contraceptive "mini-Pill," allowed mice which should have gone blind to retain their sight. A new study is now planned for next year to see if humans experience the same protective effects.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Oxford BioMedica's Investigational New Drug (IND) application for the Phase I/IIa clinical development of UshStat to treat Usher syndrome type 1B. Oxford Biometica will enroll 18 patients with Usher type 1b at the Casey Eye Institute in Portland, Oregon. The study will be lead by Dr. Richard Weleber.

New treatment for nonsense mutations may soon be ready for use in Usher syndrome patients. A molecule known as PTC124 appears to cause the stop signal in a mutated USH1C to be ignored, allowing the protein to be formed normally in cell cultures.

The artificial retina is the first device of its kind to move from the laboratory to the clinic, after a trial of 30 patients has shown that it can safely restore some vision to people who have lost their sight to a genetic disease.

Neurotech announced in Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science that their NT-501 implant slowed the loss of photoreceptors in three patients, including one with Usher syndrome type 2.

Researchers in Japan have discovered a way to coax mouse embryonic stem cells into forming an eyelike structure.

Jennifer Phillips, Ph.D., reviewed and put together a 'FAQ' on a small observational study of the effects of Valproic Acid, which was published in the summer of 2010 online in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

QLT091001 is an orally administered synthetic retinoid replacement for 11-cis-retinal, which is a key biochemical component of the visual retinoid cycle, and is under investigation for the treatment of LCA and RP.

For only the second time, the Food and Drug Administration approved a company’s request to test an embryonic stem cell-based therapy on human patients. Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), based in Marlborough, Mass., will begin testing its retinal cell treatment this year in a dozen patients with Stargardt’s macular dystrophy, an inherited degenerative eye disease that leads to blindness in children.

Some unexpected effects of lead exposure that may one day help prevent and reverse blindness have been uncovered.

A new stem cell therapy is now available to eye patients using subretinal placement of adult stem cells. Initial patients included an individual with Stargardts Disease and a patient with Age Related Macular Degeneration.

EU-funded scientists have succeeded in awakening dormant vision cones, an achievement that may lead to saving millions of people from going blind.

Dr Hanno Bolz says that his team's research challenges the traditional view that USH was inherited as a single gene disorder, and shows that it may result from at least two different genetic mutations.

UC Irvine researchers have created a retina from human embryonic stem cells, the first time they've been used to create a three-dimensional tissue structure. The eight-layer, early stage retina could be the first step towards the development of transplant-ready retinas to treat eye disorders, such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration.

BOSTON—Providing retinitis pigmentosa patients with lutein plus vitamin A palmitate slowed the loss of midperipheral vision, according to a study out of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School (Arch Ophthalmol. 2010;128(4):403-11)

University of California, Berkeley professor of neurobiology, John Flannery, is developing ways to cure genetic diseases of the retina.

A research team funded by the Foundation Fighting Blindness has used cell transplantation to restore vision in a mouse model of Usher syndrome type 2A. . Never before has a cell-based treatment been used to save vision in an Usher syndrome study, in large part because no other Usher syndrome animal models have exhibited vision loss or retinal degeneration. The advancement is a critical step forward in developing a vision treatment for humans with the condition.

This article describes and compares two retinal implants, one being developed in Israel to the one in clinical trials in the U.S. by Second Sight. While they are both implants, they are also very different. Users of the Israeli one would wear just a special pair of glasses, whereas the Second Sight one includes glasses, a camera, and a processor. In addition, surgery for the Israeli one takes much less time and is less invasive. The Israeli inventors also promise much better vision. It is expected to begin clinical trials in 2013.

An international research team led by Columbia Univ. Medical Center successfully used mouse embryonic stem cells to replace diseased retinal cells and restore sight in a mouse model of retinitis pigmentosa.

Researchers have developed an implant that clears out the scar tissue of diseased retinas and seeds new ones. This quickly evolving procedure holds hope for millions of persons with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and age-related macular degeneration (ARMD).

Researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts have developed a new tool for gene therapy that significantly increases gene delivery to cells in the retina.

ScienceDaily — Researchers trying to restore vision damaged by disease have found promise in a tiny implant that sows seeds of new cells in the eye.

Oxford BioMedica, a U.K. partner of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, has received orphan drug designation from the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) for their emerging Usher syndrome gene therapy known as UshStat. The company is planning to launch a clinical trial for UshStat in 2011. The EMEA is the European Union’s regulatory agency for medicinal products. It functions similarly to the FDA in the U.S.

EU-funded scientists have succeeded in awakening dormant vision cones, an achievement that may lead to saving millions of people from going blind. The dormant cones, which normally remain in the eye even after blindness has occurred, were successfully reactivated by an international team of scientists led by the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Switzerland and the Institut de la vision in France.

Less than a month ago, at the 2009 International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM), researchers from Stanford University presented their solution for a retinal implant that has the potential to restore vision in those who lose sight due to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), retinitis pigmentosa (RP), and certain other retinal disorders. The implant is composed of solar cells embedded in a bed of flexible silicon electrodes that transfer visual images to the brain.

The man had Limbal Stem Cell Deficiency, which is not genetic, but the technology may be applicable to Usher patients in the future.

Gene delivery to mitotic and postmitotic photoreceptors via compacted DNA nanoparticles results in improved phenotype in a mouse model of retinitis pigmentosa.

Unrelated to Usher syndrome, but the successful treatment of two children with ALD, a rare genetic disease, could impact gene therapy as an RP treatment. From NPR: "This marks a high point for the field of gene therapy."

A 9-year-old boy who received gene therapy for Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) is interviewed on CBS Morning News with his parents and Dr. Stephen Rose of the Foundation Fighting Blindness. The segment includes a before and after video of him navigating a maze.

Pennsylvania researchers using gene therapy have made significant improvements in vision in 12 patients with Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA). The findings may offer hope for those with macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin have reported the development of a new drug delivery system which has the potential to treat degenerative diseases of the retina, including retinitis pigmentosa.

New York Times article outlining a number of experimental treatments being tested to help restore vision. An intensive three-year research project involving electrodes surgically implanted in the eye, a camera on the bridge of the nose and a video processor strapped to the waist is part of a burst of recent research.

Led by electrical engineering professor John Wyatt, team develops retinal implant that could help restore useful level of vision to certain groups of blind people. Inspired by the success of cochlear implants that can restore hearing to some deaf people, researchers at MIT are working on a retinal implant that could one day help blind people regain a useful level of vision.

Report on efforts of a team in Germany to develop an electronic retinal prosthesis.

A new clinical test called the OtoChipTM Test for Hearing Loss and Usher Syndrome was launched by the Laboratory for Molecular Medicine, Partners Healthcare Center for Personalized Genetic Medicine on June 22, 2009. This test sequences ~70,000 bases of DNA across 19 genes involved in hearing loss and Usher syndrome.

Neurotech Pharmaceuticals, Inc., today announced that the Company's product candidate, NT-501 demonstrated a strong biologic effect in two Phase 2 clinical trials for retinitis pigmentosa (RP)

Very little research-based information exists about the benefits and challenges of cochlear implants for children who are deaf or hard of hearing, who also have a vision impairment. A new study aims to remedy that. This multi-year project will address a number of objectives to begin to provide a research base for more informed decision-making by families and service providers, in relation to cochlear implants for children who are deaf-blind.

The transplantation of stem cells that are capable of producing functional cell types might be a promising treatment for hearing impairment.

It has been discovered that a myosin protein connected to Usher syndrome works differently from many other myosins.

This handbook on stem cell therapies was published in 2008 but is still very relevant today.

According to Reuters, stem cells from tiny embryos can be used to restore lost hearing and vision in animals. This research holds promise for humans.

Aminoglycocides have shown promising effects in cell cultures and may someday be used to suppress mutations involved in Usher syndrome.

By Ilene Miner, CSW and Joe Cioffi, M. Ed. Published by Helen Keller National Center, this study looks at early intervention or involvement of the person with the disability in the process of problem solving, introducing role models, and encouraging the student to take care of him or herself and make independent decisions, which is rarely implemented in work with children, youth, and young adults with Usher syndrome.

Stephen E. Zrada, Kevin Braat, Richard L. Doty, Alan M. Laties

Olfactory testing should be included as a part of test batteries used for comprehensive evaluation of patients with USH1 and USH2, this may aid in the classification of specific genotypic and phenotypic forms, and in the identification of the subset of patients with significant smell deficits, thereby providing the clinician with an opportunity to counsel individuals with USH-related olfactory dysfunction.