Gene therapy manages to halt an inherited retina disease for the first time

Replacing a damaged gene with a healthy one to prevent vision loss was the major advance being discussed at the international Trends in Retina meeting, with gene therapy and technology as the starring topics.

Trends in Retina: gene therapies, artificial vision and telemedicine

The development of gene therapies to prevent vision loss due to hereditary retina diseases is the future for treating these previously incurable pathologies, according to the organisers of the fourth Trends in Retina conference, a meeting that has gathered 300 experts at IMO Barcelona.

First gene therapy

During the meeting, the technique for applying the first therapy, which has already been approved in the United States and Europe, was shown: Luxturna, a medicine that is injected into the back of the eye, under the retina, and which introduces a healthy copy of the damaged gene (RPE65) in patients with Leber's congenital amaurosis. Thanks to this gene therapy, the retinal cells can regain normal function, whereby the progression of the disease is slowed down.

The new treatment paves the way for other gene therapies, which are aimed at different genes associated with retinal dystrophies, that are about to be launched on the market, such as a therapy for patients with a particularly severe form of retinitis pigmentosa that was presented at the meeting.

ponentes Trends in Retina: terapias génicas y más

The speakers at the Trends in Retina conference have discussed gene therapy and other advances, such as artificial vision and telemedicine diagnostics.

New chips for artificial vision

As an alternative for these patients, whose eye damage is already at an advanced stage, experts have also analysed advances in artificial vision. According to Dr José García-Arumí, an IMO specialist and co-organiser of the Trends in Retina conference, "not only are new self-recharging microchip models being developedto be placed inside the eye, but also devices are being tested that are inserted in the visual area of the brain (occipital lobe)".

In addition to the efforts made to deal withuntreatable cases of vision loss, therapeutic efficacy continues to improve with regard to some highly prevalent eye pathologies. This is the case of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or macular edema (frequently occurring in diabetics): "Although intraocular drug injections were revolutionary with increasingly long-lasting effects, sustained-release devices are one step ahead and ensure that the drug action inside the eye lasts up to half a year", Dr Rafael Navarro, a member of the Trends conference organising committee, highlighted.

Within the surgical field, advances are ongoing as well, as was demonstrated at the meeting of experts, who have shown cutting-edge techniques, such as a retinal detachment surgery with an amniotic membrane, hence replacing traditional silicone oil to ensure that the retina which has been operated on is kept in place.

On the other hand, the results of promising technologies have also been discussed, such as 3D viewing systems in the operating theatre– which the IMO applies in a pioneering way and have allowed the more than 300 attendees of the meeting to view immersive videos of several operations – or hypersonic vitrectomy using ultrasound. "We are exploring the potential benefits of these new technologies to be even more precise in the operating theatre",the IMO’s surgical retina specialists Dr Borja Corcóstegui, Dr José García-Arumí and Dr Carlos Mateo concluded.

Trends in retina: cirugía en 3D de terapia génica

The 3D surgical video session has allowed us to view the pioneering application of gene therapy and innovative surgical techniques for different retinal pathologies.

The rise of telemedicine

The latest development shown at the Trends in Retina conference, which was organised by IMO Foundation, covers the field of telemedicine, which is paving the way for remote ophthalmological screenings and, thus, detect the need to see an ophthalmologist. According to the organisers of the meeting, "its main indication has been geared to checking on diabetic patients – who must have their eyes checked quiteoften, but it will soon be used for other chronic pathologies as well, such as AMD". In addition, as diagnostic tests like OCT and artificial intelligence algorithms classifying data are incorporated into telemedicine, screening becomes highly reliable and effective.