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The Spanish Organisation for the Blind supports a University of Alicante research project

 

Alicante, 26 February 2015

The Spanish Organisation for the Blind (ONCE) will assist funding a project on a therapy of neurodegenerative diseases of the retina using optogenetics, research work carried out under the supervision of Ph.D. Nicolás Cuenca, from the University of Alicante on a large group of eye diseases that cause blindness.

ONCE cooperates with the research work from the University of Alicante led by Ph.D. Nicolás Cuenca Navarro with the main goal of finding new therapies in the treatment of degenerative diseases of the retina.

Many diseases affect retinal photoreceptor cells producing a gradual loss of vision, resulting in eventual blindness sometimes. Optogenetics in a promising therapy for degenerative diseases. The research work carried out by the UA research group in “Neurobiology of the visual system and therapy of neurodegenerative diseases” with Nicolás Cuenca as its main researcher will allow a recovery of sight with the use of a type of photosensitive protein from microorganisms by generating new photosensitive retinal cells to replace the photoreceptor function when they have degenerated in blind individuals.

Optogenetics is a novel technique based on genetic engineering which involves introducing a gene (called "optogen") expressing a light-sensitive protein into cells normally insensitive to light. When said protein receives light, it is activated and modulates neuronal cell activity. By doing so, other other retinal cells can assume their functions as photoreceptors and thus restore vision when degeneration is found in photoreceptors. In the coming years, preclinical trials will give us valuable data on the safety and efficacy of this therapeutic strategy with enormous potential.

Optogenetics is nowadays in experimental phases with successful results in animals and hopefully it can be applied to humans in the near future. 

Ph.D. Cuenca is currently working in a European project in  Rare diseases [OPTOREMODE (E-RARE)] in collaboration with research groups from France, Germany and Canada. The findings will pave the way for clinical trials of optogenetics reactivation of the retina in patients with blindness. 

 

The Spanish Organisation for the Blind support research projects 

The social investment achieved with the daily contribution of citizens' purchase of the ONCE's lottery tickets is returned by the ONCE to society in the form of specialised services for the blind or visually impaired in education, employment, rehabilitation, adapted technical aid, communication and access to information, entertainment, sports, etc.

In order to carry out its goals, ONCE relies on the provision of multiple services and the implementation of various activities, highlighting its commitment to supporting R&D in the field of blindness and visual impairment through collaboration research projects related to those eye diseases that most often cause partial or total blindness.

ONCE seeks to stimulate the most advanced and innovative scientific knowledge about blindness and visual impairment with this type of collaboration and thus, promote its prevention and the development of effective therapies.

 

Photography courtesy of Nicolás Cuenca.

 

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