Summer brings sunshine, but also more time for thinking and reading. At the FFB, we took this opportunity to answer some of your most frequently asked questions about vision research and emerging treatments. We hope you enjoy this summer reading material– keep sending in your questions!
1) When can I expect a cure for my eye disease?
Let’s start with the big one. As anyone affected by vision loss knows, this is the question. While it would certainly be irresponsible for us to provide a definitive answer—science is inherently uncertain, so we just don’t know—we can say with enthusiasm that we’re seeing incredible progress this year. From the explosion of gene therapy clinical trials entering the market to incredible advancements in stem cells seen globally, what’s clear is that with the help of supporters like you, we’re pushing vision science forward each and every day.
In fact, at the end of last year we listed the top ten discoveries driving what we like to call The Race to Restore Sight. That race is ongoing, and as long as we keep fighting for it, it’s only a matter of time before one (or all) of the participants—stem cells, gene therapy, drug interventions, or artificial vision—crosses the finish line.
2) How can I determine my genetic diagnosis?
As The Race to Restore Sight accelerates, it’s important to be prepared for the results. The best way you can be prepare for many of these emerging therapies, especially for inherited blinding eye diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and Stargardt disease, is to know your genetic diagnosis. How do I determine my genetic diagnosis, you ask? Thanks for asking.
The best way is to begin the process of genetic testing, which involves asking your family doctor, optometrist, or ophthalmologist to connect you with a genetic counsellor. More details on that process and on genetic testing generally can be found in our “everything you need to know”-style Guide to Genetic Testing.
3) How can I find out about, and participate in, legitimate clinical trials?
Aside from preparing you generally for future advances in vision science, genetic testing can help you better navigate the existing and often complex landscape of clinical trials. Clinical trials are experiments that test whether a new intervention, such as a drug or surgery, will work in people, the central goal being to determine if the intervention is safe and effective. Such trials are a crucial part of vision research, not to mention an essential stage, for many, of what we call the Vision Care Pathway. No new treatments could be produced without clinical trials.
Unfortunately, finding clinical trials and determining your suitability for them can be tricky, which is why we developed this handy Guide to Clinical Trials. If you’re exploring clinical trials as the next part of your Vision Care Pathway, please take a look. We also discussed clinical trials extensively in a recent Facebook Live session.
4) What is the most promising area of research for potential treatments?
One of the incredible things about vision research is how spectacularly advanced the science of the eye has become in the twenty-first century. After decades of intensive research exploring the biological complexity of the human eye, how its genes, cells, and molecules interact to produce (or inhibit) vision, we’re now witnessing real, tangible progress in the treatment of retinal diseases.
Truthfully, there is no single area of research that is more advanced than any other. Work in artificial vision has produced the Argus II retinal implant, named the invention of the year in 2013 by Popular Science; scientists are transforming stem cells into sheets of cone photoreceptors, which are essential for vision; the CRISPR tool is allowing geneticists to edit the genes responsible for vision loss the way one would edit incorrect grammar using a word processor; and there’s incredible forward momentum in the science of treating blindness with an eye drop. In other contexts this is the stuff of science fiction. In the world of vision science, it is real progress made possible by the generosity, enthusiasm, and commitment of our wonderful donors.
5) How can I hurry the pace of research?
The FFB’s mission is to push forward vision research and connect you to the results of that work as quickly as possible. We simply can’t do that without your support. If you’d like to hurry the pace of research, consider a gift to the Foundation Fighting Blindness.
Our Director of Research & Education, Dr. Mary Sunderland, recently elaborated on these questions and answers during a Facebook Live session that you can revisit below: