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Start-up to research on degenerative eye disease

Last Updated : 09 December 2019, 07:11 IST
Last Updated : 09 December 2019, 07:11 IST
Last Updated : 09 December 2019, 07:11 IST
Last Updated : 09 December 2019, 07:11 IST

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Dr Jogin Desai 
Dr Jogin Desai 
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A city-based medical science startup is gearing up to halt the progress of degenerative eye disease in Indians after trials in blind rats showed the creatures regaining their sight in a few months.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a form of blindness that affects a segment of the adult population after they reach the age of 50. It accounts for 8.7% of all blindness worldwide. Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), meanwhile, is a rare genetic disorder, which affects one child in 4,000.

There is no known cure for the diseases. However, Dr Jogin Desai, whose startup, Eyestem, which has been under incubation by the government’s Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-Camp) for the past three years, believes its work can halt the progression of the diseases by using genetically modified stem cells to restore the pigment epithelium in the cornea.

The pigment epithelium, which is only 1.5 mm thick, performs critical functions that support photoreceptor health and integrity. It was likened to the ‘foundation’ of a building. The therapy will also seek to restore the photoreceptor cells in the retina, which were likened to ‘buildings’. Phase 1 human clinical trials are set to start in 12 to 15 months.

Existing research postulates that using biodegradable ‘scaffolding’ upon which modified cells are stacked can help rebuild the pigment epithelium. However, Dr Desai said that current work delivering modified Eycyte-RPE (or Retinal Pigment Epithelium) cells, which are suspended in the liquid, is even more effective.

“We have found that cells delivered in this way automatically seek out their ‘body niche’ and assimilate into the system,” he said, adding that trials in blind lab rats had showed the animals regaining their vision over a two-month period.

‘Most discoveries fail’

Desai, however, cautioned that no amount of promise can legitimise an idea if its time has not yet come. “In fact, just one of 1,600 scientific discoveries made in research labs makes it into a fully fledged development where it can impact people’s lives,” he explained.

Most scientific discoveries are weeded out in exacting, three-phased clinical trials, based on the criteria of safety, scalability and effectiveness.

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Published 08 December 2019, 18:43 IST

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