an Even reports for Haaretz that researchers at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center, in Tel Hashomer, Israel, have found that a powder produced from orange algae can help treat Retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited disease that causes degeneration of the photoreceptor cells in the retina, and occurs in one of every 3,500 Israeli births. The research was published in the May issue of JAMA Ophthalmology, published by the American Medical Association.
The Sheba study treated participants with a powder produced from dunaliella bardawil algae. The discovery originated when Prof. Ami Ben Amotz did reserve duty near Lake Bardawil on the northern coast of the Sinai Peninsula. Amotz, a student at the time, noticed an orange hue covering part of the lake, and he took back some of the algae for analysis at Weizmann Institute of Science. The unicellular algae turned out to be very rich in the anti-oxidant 9-cis beta-carotene.
One of Ben Amotz’s eventual students, Dr. Avi Shaish, continued to study the algae – at first at Weizmann and later in the Sheba research labs – for lipids and atherosclerosis, where it came to the attention of Prof. Michael Belkin, director of the ophthalmic technologies lab at Sheba. Prof. Belkin raised the idea of studying its effectiveness against retina degeneration.
The study was conducted by the head of the retina research lab at Sheba, Dr. Ygal Rotenstreich, who produced a concentrated powder from the algae and made pills out of it. At first it was tested on seven patients suffering from night blindness, and after 90 days of treatment, there was considerable improvement in their night vision and in the electrical performance of the retina.
It emerged that 34 percent of the patients experienced a significant improvement in their field of vision and electrical retina response after they had been treated with the algae. Some experienced as much as a quadrupling of their field of vision.