The Optogenetic Option

Optogenetics holds the potential of reversing blindness in retinal disease – but how far has the field come, and who are the key players?

By Irv Arons

At a Glance

  • Optogenetics, a technique that originated in neuroscience research, allows neuronal activity to be controlled with light – and potentially bypass damaged photoreceptors to help partially restore vision in those with retinal degenerative disease
  • Many of the methods under development are now poised to move to the clinical trial stage, with some prototype manufacturers working towards FDA approval for their devices
  • Subretinal implants, biomimetic goggles and programmable computer chips are among the devices that may soon work with optogenetic methods to restore vision in patients with photoreceptor damage
  • Photoreceptor rejuvenation or regeneration may remain the most direct path to recovering vision, but photopharmacological switches, retinal prostheses and optogenetics continue to evolve

In the battle to restore vision for those with lost or damaged photoreceptors, progress is being made on many fronts. I have previously described the possibility of reversing blindness by regenerating retinal photoreceptors (1). But there is another promising approach – optogenetics. There are a number of universities and companies currently working in this field, and in this article I will attempt to summarize the current state of research and detail how close we are to human trials of optogenetics-based techniques for restoring lost vision.

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