Research conducted at the Angiogenesis Laboratory at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, has for the first time, identified the mode of death of cone photoreceptor cells in an animal model of retinitis pigmentosa (RP). This groundbreaking study, led by Demetrios G. Vavvas, M.D., Ph.D., and including Joan W. Miller, M.D., Mass. Eye and Ear/Mass General Hospital Chief of Ophthalmology and Chair of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, has further identified the receptor interacting protein (RIP) kinase pathway as a potential target for developing treatment for vision loss in patients with retinitis pigmentosa. The study is expected to be published the week of Aug. 20 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.
Retinitis pigmentosa is an inherited condition that causes irreversible vision loss due to the degeneration of photoreceptor cells in the eye called "rods" and "cones." Rods are responsible for night vision, while cones are responsible for daylight and central vision. Vision loss from RP often begins with loss of night vision, due to death of rods, followed by loss of peripheral and central vision, due to death of rods and cones. Such vision loss can have a significant impact on people's daily lives, such as affecting their ability to read or drive a car. RP affects more than 1 million people around the world.
Research conducted by Eliot L. Berson, M.D., of the Berman-Gund Laboratory for the Study of Retinal Degenerations at Mass. Eye and Ear, has shown that Vitamin A supplementation and an omega-3 rich diet can slow visual decline resulting from RP; they do not completely stop disease progression, however. For most patients, RP results in irreversible vision loss.