Restoring Sight: CRISPR Could Reprogram Cells to Treat Retinitis pigmentosa

Genetic Literacy Project 4/28/17 University of California San Diego

Using the gene-editing tool CRISPR/Cas9, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Shiley Eye Institute at UC San Diego Health, have reprogrammed mutated rod photoreceptors to become functioning cone photoreceptors, reversing cellular degeneration and restoring visual function in two mouse models of retinitis pigmentosa.


Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a group of inherited vision disorders caused by numerous mutations in more than 60 genes. Initial symptoms are loss of peripheral and night vision. There is no treatment for RP. The eventual result may be legal blindness.

The scientists tested their approach in two different mouse models of RP. In both cases, they found an abundance of reprogrammed cone cells and preserved cellular architecture in the retinas. Electroretinography testing of rod and cone receptors in live mice show improved function.

“Human clinical trials could be planned soon after completion of preclinical study. There is no treatment for RP so the need is great and pressing. In addition, our approach of reprogramming mutation-sensitive cells to mutation-resistant cells may have broader application to other human diseases, including cancer.” said Kang Zhang, founding director of the Institute for Genomic Medicine…at the Institute of Engineering in Medicine.

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