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Researchers Get $2.2M to Study Rare Vision-Loss Disorder

The money comes from NIH.

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BUFFALO, NY — A University at Buffalo ophthalmology researcher has been awarded a $2.2 million grant to study a rare cause of blindness that strikes young children.

The disorder, autosomal recessive retinitis pigmentosa, begins with nighttime vision loss and progresses to total blindness.

The money comes from the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

The purpose of the grant is to use newly created animal models to better understand and eventually treat the disorder.

The grant was awarded to Steven J. Fliesler, vice chair and director of research in the Department of Ophthalmology in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB; and his co-principal investigator, Steven J. Pittler, professor in the School of Optometry at the University of Alabama-Birmingham and director of its Vision Science Research Center.

Their research targets a specific type of the disorder, called RP59, which starts much earlier in childhood than more common forms of the disease.

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“As in other forms of RP, the retina’s rod photoreceptor cells, which enable us to see dim light and things without color, deteriorate and die, while the cone photoreceptors, which detect color and are used for visual acuity, are typically unaffected until later in the disease course,” Fliesler said. “Ours is the first lab to develop a viable and useful mammalian gene ‘knockout’ model of this human genetic disorder.”

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Ophthalmologists Hope to Undo State Law That Allows ODs to Perform Eye Surgery

They’re attempting a ballot referendum.

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A movement is afoot in Arkansas to undo recently passed state legislation that allows optometrists to perform certain surgeries.

It’s being led by Safe Surgery Arkansas, a group of medical doctors, Talk Business & Politics reports. They hope to use a ballot referendum to accomplish their goal.

R. Scott Lowery, president of the Arkansas Ophthalmological Society, was quoted saying: “Every day the people of Arkansas rely on medical doctors who have the experience and training to perform medical procedures to ensure that they are getting world class healthcare in Arkansas. We are confident that when the people are heard on this issue, they will not allow individuals without medical degrees and without surgical residencies to jeopardize the precious eyesight of Arkansans.”

The legislation was signed into law in March. The procedures that it allows optometrists to perform include selective laser trabeculoplasty and Nd:YAG laser procedures, along with injections (excluding intravenous and intraocular), removal of lid lesions and chalazion incision and curettage.

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The bill called on the Arkansas Board of Optometry to establish credentialing requirements for optometrists to perform these laser procedures, as well as require those doctors to report the outcomes of their procedures to the board.

Vicki Farmer, executive director of the Arkansas Optometry Association, was quoted noting that Arkansas legislators “overwhelmingly approved this measure during the recent session, after listening to hours of testimony and debate, and learning optometrists in other states, like Oklahoma, have been safely performing these procedures for more than 20 years.”

Read more at Talk Business & Politics

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Eye Doctors Can Play a Key Role in Diagnosing Gut Disease

About 3.1 million people in the U.S. have IBD, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

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Optometrists can play an important role in helping patients who have inflammatory bowel disease, the American Optometric Association reports.

Inflammatory bowel disease can cause symptoms in the eye, which ODs can detect during during comprehensive eye examinations, according to a newly released AOA Health Policy Institute brief.

“Given that comprehensive eye examinations can lead to earlier, definitive diagnosis of IBD, patient outcomes improve with earlier treatment,” AOA reports.

“The clinical manifestations of common inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, are not restricted to the gastrointestinal tract,” according to the Health Policy Institute brief. “IBDs have impact to other organs in a significant number of patients, including the eyes in 72.1 percent of patients with IBDs.”

The brief links IBD’s inflammation to a variety of ophthalmic conditions, including:

  • Episcleritis
  • Scleritis
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye)
  • Retinal edema
  • Optic neuritis (swelling of the optic nerve)
  • Extraocular muscle nerve palsies.

According to the brief, about 3.1 million people in the U.S. have IBD, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

“Evaluation of the eye should be a routine component of care in patients with IBD just as it is with similar chronic co-morbid systemic conditions like diabetes,” according to the paper.

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Eye Health Firm Acquired in $800M Deal

The acquisition focuses on treatments for inherited retinal disorders.

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CAMBRIDGE, MA — Biogen announced that it has completed its acquisition of Nightstar Therapeutics, a clinical-stage gene therapy company focused on treatments for inherited retinal disorders.

As a result of the acquisition, Biogen now has added two mid- to late-stage clinical assets, as well as preclinical programs, in ophthalmology, according to a press release.

The transaction value was about $800 million. Nightstar’s common stock will no longer be listed for trading on the Nasdaq Global Select Market.

Nightstar is developing adeno-associated virus treatment. Its lead asset is NSR-REP1 for the treatment of choroideremia, a rare degenerative, X-linked inherited retinal disorder that leads to blindness and has no approved treatments. Initially, patients with choroideremia experience poor night vision, and over time progressive visual loss leads to complete blindness.

NSR-RPGR is Nightstar’s second clinical program for the treatment of X-linked retinitis pigmentosa, which is also a rare inherited retinal disease primarily affecting males with no approved treatments. The disease leads to loss of photoreceptor cells, resulting in retinal dysfunction by adolescence and early adulthood, progressing to legal blindness when patients reach their 40s.

“Today marks a significant achievement for Biogen,” said Michel Vounatsos, Biogen’s CEO. “The acquisition of Nightstar further bolsters our pipeline and is an important step forward toward our goal of a multi-franchise portfolio across complementary modalities. We look forward to working now as one Biogen team with the goal of bringing breakthrough therapies to patients to slow or halt blindness across a range of inherited retinal diseases.”

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