eye-health-macular-degenerationLiz Freeman reports for the Naples News on a connection between green algae and the potential to restore vision in people with macular degeneration. RetroSense Therapeutics, a biotechnology company in Ann Arbor, Michigan, intends to launch a human clinical trial later this year that involves a gene found in green algae.

The gene is called Channelrhodopsin-2 and it has capabilities to absorb or accept light similar to photoreceptors cells in the eyes that are necessary for vision but have died in people with retinal degenerative diseases. The therapy involves injecting the gene in the eye area.

“We are taking neuron cells and turning them into photoreceptor-like cells to accept light,” said Dr. Stephen Bramer, chief development officer for RetroSense. The hope is to restore some vision in blind patients with the dry form of macular degeneration. “They can read (large) letters, they can navigate around a room,” Bramer said.

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in people over 55 and affects more than 10 million Americans, according to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation. It is caused by the central portion of the retina, the macula, deteriorating. The macula is responsible for central vision and loss of central vision leads to inability to read, drive, see fine objects and has a huge bearing on quality of life.

The gene therapy and connection to green algae came about several years ago by several Japanese scientists who have a love for fishing and were curious as to why green algae moves to the surface of pond water. The research led to the isolation of the Channelrhodopsin-2 gene in the algae, and that gene also naturally exists in the eye.

Bramer said his company has the worldwide licensing rights to the intellectual property of one of the scientists who helped develop the algae-based gene therapy, Zhuo-Hua Pan, who is a biology professor at Wayne State University in the Detroit area. The plan is to start a clinical trial later this year with a small number of humans, initially with groups of three people.