Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo


Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

Neurotech’s is not the only approach to combating degenerative retinal diseases, however. Other researchers are transplanting various kinds of cells into the retina itself. For instance, Thomas Reh, a biologist and expert in retinal-cell development and regeneration at the University of Washington, has used embryonic stem cells to produce light-sensitive cells, which resemble those of the retina. His team is now transplanting the cells into the eyes of blind mice to see whether they improve the animals’ sight. In related work, Advanced Cell Technology, a biotech company based in Alameda, CA, has used embryonic stem cells to produce another type of retinal cells–called pigment epithelial cells–that degenerate in macular degeneration. When transplanted into animal models, these cells appear to protect the light-sensitive cells of the retina and improve vision. Still other researchers are working with cells derived from fetal tissue.

In these approaches, the goal is to integrate new cells into the retina to help restore its function. Rebuilding parts of the retina might result in more dramatic or long-lasting improvement than simply slowing degeneration, says Reh. On the other hand, Neurotech’s strategy “may be less risky because if something goes wrong, you can get the cells out again” simply by removing the device, he says.

Neurotech is also farther along in the clinical-trials process than any other cell-therapy group, so its platform could be available to patients sooner, Reh adds.

Other active research involves gene therapy. For example, Ceregene, a biotech company based in San Diego, is working with the gene for a protein called NT4. Researchers at the company have introduced the gene into the retinas of several animal models and seen improvements in vision, according to Jeffrey Ostrove, president and CEO of Ceregene. The company expects to begin clinical trials in people with retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration soon, possibly in 2009.

Rose, however, emphasizes that Neurotech offers more than just a specific treatment regimen; it also offers a novel drug delivery system. “Even if the results of the current trials aren’t 100 percent spectacular,” he says, Neurotech’s approach could be adapted to deliver other growth factors or therapeutic molecules down the road. “That’s the beauty of it. It’s a spectacular platform.”

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Credit: Technology Review

Tagged: Biomedicine, Business, blindness, macular degeneration, retina, eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

Amanda Schaffer Guest Contributor

View Profile »

From the Archives


Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me