Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Retinitis Pigmentosa

There was a video clip shown in class that discussed a new treatment for retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease of the retina. The gentleman in the video was suffering from the disease, and only had 5 degrees of vision left. He told the interviewers that because of that he was only able to see one of them at a time. As he was talking, I was wondering what that could possibly be like. With only 5 degrees of vision, what could he really see of the world?

People with this disease early on suffer from problems with peripheral vision and night blindness, as the rods on the outside of the eye are normally affected first. When the cones are also attacked there is a loss of color and central vision.  The Foundation Fighting Blindness states that about 100,000 Americans (1 in 4000) have retinitis pigmentosa, and that most people that have it are legally blind by the age of 40. The interview talked of gene treatment trials, but there has also been work done with nutritional therapy (vitamin A, which has it's own health risks, has been used), therapies directed to the rod and cone cells, and there is being work done on developing an implantable microchip that can act as a video camera in the eye.

Comments from people that suffer from the disease say that the tunnel vision seen in the video is not exactly how they see the world. Some of their minds filled in parts of the blanks, which confused their perception. They run into things because their mind has filled in the area and misjudged the location of an object. Others saw clumsiness and bumping into things as early indicators of the disease. Although many of the people who spoke about their illness were upbeat about it, it is debilitating and the older members of the community found themselves more dependent on others, which actually made them feel more isolated. Hopefully the gene treatments they were testing will start to show positive results and provide some relief from those that suffer from it.

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