A Collaboration to Cure Blindness with Retinal Cell Transplants.
By Janet Wells
When Herbert Wertheim School of Optometry & Vision Science professor Teresa Puthussery, OD, PhD, was a newly-minted clinician two decades ago, a patient in his early 20s showed up at the low vision clinic where she worked in her native Australia.
“We were the same age. He was planning a trip to Nepal to see the Himalayas and I had just returned from working in an eye hospital there,” she says. “He wanted to make the trip soon as he was progressively losing his vision from retinitis pigmentosa,” an incurable genetic disease that destroys the retinal photoreceptors, the light sensing cells of the eye.
Most patients at the clinic were elderly. But symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa (RP) usually start in childhood, leading to severe vision loss and blindness by age 40. “I thought, ‘What would it be like at my age to be going progressively blind, and there’s nothing we can do, not even any treatments in the next ten years?’” recalls Dr. Puthussery. “I wished I could say something hopeful about the outlook for his condition. I couldn’t. RP affects young people in the peak of their lives and we had no solutions.”
It was a crossroads moment, motivating Dr. Puthussery to return to school to study the biology and neurobiology of the eye, and fueling her ongoing quest for investigative and therapeutic breakthroughs.
Today, Dr. Puthussery would be able to have a different conversation with her Himalaya-bound patient, about a brighter future—one that she is helping to forge as part of a vision health “moonshot” funded through the prestigious Audacious Goals Initiative (AGI) for Regenerative Medicine.