Israeli researchers are developing a medication to treat retinitis pigmentosa, an incurable genetic eye disease that causes retina degeneration and blindness at a young age, by recreating a supplement derived from a natural ingredient that no longer exists in sufficient quantities.
Retinitis pigmentosa is believed to affect around 1.5 million people globally, with 2,000-3,000 patients in Israel. The disease first manifests early in life, with late onset symptoms appearing in early- to mid-adulthood. A patient’s vision will continue to decline as the disease gets progressively worse, which can lead to complete blindness.
The disease itself is caused by a genetic mutation that prevents the body from absorbing β-carotene, a pigment that is essential for vision, the lack of which results in vision deterioration and retina degeneration.
While there is no cure for the condition, there are many different proposed treatments and medications. One of these was discovered in clinical trials from around a decade ago, which saw a natural food supplement derived from marine algae having success in improving treatment in a third of patients.
The specific treatment focused on the active ingredient 9-cis-β-carotene, a version of β-carotene. The ingredient was shown to be absorbed by some of the patients, allowing their vision to improve in several areas – specifically night vision, field of vision and electrical activity in the retina.
Later, however, the supplement’s effectiveness proved to be more erratic. This was found to be due to environmental factors, which caused a change in the algae, meaning it no longer contained enough 9-cis-β-carotene.
Read More: Jerusalem Post