The state of gene therapy and stem cell treatment for blindness

Many people in the visually impaired community are (understandably) excited about the prospect of using gene therapy and stem cells to potentially cure blindness.

While there have been encouraging developments in these fields, on the whole it is still early stages.

In December 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the clinical use of voretigene neparvovec (Luxturna), the first gene therapy for any condition to be given the go ahead. This comes off the back of over 10 years of research and clinical trials, and is aimed at only those with an “inherited retinal disease caused by mutations in both copies of the RPE65 gene and who have enough remaining cells in the retina”.

There are more than 250 genes involved in the development of blindness.

When it comes to stem cells, there have been two well publicised trials involving patients with different forms of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). While the results were promising, the sample sizes were very small (7 in total) and they had only undergone the first phase of trials. 

Generally it may take at least 3 trials before being submitted for approval by governing bodies. So while some may claim that these “could lead to an ‘off-the-shelf’ treatment within five years”, the timeframe makes this extremely optimistic. 

In an analysis by the National Health Service (NHS), they concluded that the 2018 results from the stem cell trials conducted by University College London, Moorfields Eye Hospital and Pfizer were “in its very early stages – bigger longer term trials will be needed to be sure it’s safe and effective”. For context, the phase I trials took three years and only included two patients. Unfortunately, there has not been any more updates since.

One of the more recent trials comes from UK-based biotech company ReNeuron Group. They had started Phase I/IIa clinical trials in the US with their human retinal progenitor cell (hRPC) therapy candidate for retinitis pigmentosa (RP) earlier this year and presented some of their early findings at the sixth annual Retinal Cell and Gene Therapy Innovation Summit in Vancouver, Canada, on the 26th April.

And while progress made has been encouraging, the trials have only been conducted with three people for less than half a year each. 

With number of hurdles needed to be overcome, one can only speculate when these treatments will successfully come to market, if at all. 

On the other hand, technology has seen tremendous growth and plays an ever increasing role in aiding those with a visual impairment. From wearables to apps, accessories to services, there are many potential solutions out there that are able to bridge the gap until a permanent solution is found.

OXSIGHT Signs Partnership with Samuels Opticians

Low vision specialist, OXSIGHT, have signed a partnership with Samuels Opticians to help make visual aids more readily available to those with sight loss in the Midlands.

OXSIGHT glasses use revolutionary imaging technology, built within Epson Moverio smart glasses to enhance the remaining sight for those living with peripheral vision loss caused by glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, and other degenerative eye diseases. The completion of this agreement increases the number of partners OXSIGHT have and further improves their ability to provide low vision services to the visually impaired community.

Samuels Opticians provide leading eyecare services and is run by Tony Samuels, who has over 40 years experience as an optician. Previously, Tony Samuels had set up an award-winning low vision clinic at Manor Hospital Walsall. He has two clinics in the Midlands and is excited to be part of this new venture.

“As an optometrist I have specialised in aids to assist people with low vision for nearly 40 years,” commented Tony Samuels.

“OXSIGHT is at the forefront of this technology with a unique low vision aid which is designed for those who have peripheral loss of vision compared to most aids designed for those with a loss of central vision. It is only recently that modern technology has been used to help such people. The look of delight on a successful OXSIGHT user and their family says it all. I am delighted to have been chosen by OXSIGHT as their clinical partner for the Midlands and look forward to helping as many people as possible.”

To mark the occasion, OXSIGHT will be joint-hosting an open day at Samuels Opticians in Solihull on 29th June, offering demonstrations of the glasses along with talks from current users.

OXSIGHT users have experienced an increased field of view of up to 68 degrees. Many utilise the different modes on offer to enhance their remaining vision and experience sights they thought they had lost forever.

“I’ve used super colour mode whilst sorting out my washing. It is really good for that as I could tell the difference between black and navy socks,” said Julie, an OXSIGHT user. “I had given up trying different things before I had the glasses because it was upsetting that I couldn’t do certain activities. However, these glasses are giving me a new enjoyment in life.”

 

About OXSIGHT:

OXSIGHT is a fast-growing digital eye care technology company established in 2016 as a spinout from Oxford University. It has developed a portfolio of products that are transforming the lives of the visually impaired, their friends, colleagues and the community around them.

It makes glasses that can make a real difference to people with conditions that cause peripheral vision loss. These include Glaucoma, Diabetic Retinopathy, Retinitis Pigmentosa, Myopic Degeneration, Retinopathy of prematurity and other degenerative eye diseases. Its glasses have also helped people with a visual impairment caused following a stroke, such as homonymous hemianopia.

The company has worked in partnership with leading global players from both the visually impaired community and the technology sector. These include Google, The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), Moorfields Eye Hospital, Guide Dogs Association and The Royal Academy of Engineering.

OXSIGHT is building a network of clinics in the UK and has operations in Europe, India and China.

 

Contact information:

Tel: 01865 580255

Email: care@oxsight.co.uk

OXSIGHT Team Running for Retina UK

Less than 50 days to go until OXSIGHT Customer Care Manager Shaun Claridge sets off over the gruelling 26.2 miles of the London Marathon as part of the 2019 Retina UK team.

Having met the charities organisers, volunteers and members Shaun felt it was time to step up and try to help and is being supported by everyone in the OXSIGHT team as he attempts raise as much money as possible for Retina UK.

Shaun and his daughter with half eaten oreo cookies

Shaun’s training diet includes 5 meals of half an Oreo a day

The London Marathon is just the starting point for Shaun’s 20/20 Challenge where he will attempt to run 20 x 20 mile runs before the end of 2020.  That’s 400 miles of pure pain for Retina UK!  We will be sharing regular updates from Shaun’s 20/20 challenge, his progress, his injuries and just how much cake one man can eat in a year!

Henshaws reviews OXSIGHT glasses

Henshaws is a charity based in the North of England that have been helping those with sight loss and other disabilities for over 180 years. They work to help reduce social isolation and increase independence through empowering disabled people to go beyond expectations and achieve their ambitions.

They were kind enough to do an honest review of our Crystal glasses, which includes a quick demonstration and a look through the various modes we offer.

Ambassador Insights: A Rekindled Joy

Guest post by Anna.woman with short hair with oxsight crystal glasses

Anna has retinitis pigementosa and became an OXSIGHT Ambassador in December 2018. She is currently enjoying all the ways that OXSIGHT Crystal is enhancing her life. 


My mum was very keen on art and, during a visit to Paris when I was 15, she took me to see numerous galleries — mainly containing impressionist paintings. I’ve had RP all my life and I remember being able to see more as a teenager than I can now, approaching 50. The difference is subtle — my field of vision has always been poor, but my ability to deal with light and dark has diminished.

These days, I often find galleries poorly lit and sometimes can barely make out what is behind the glass when I look at a painting. My long-suffering and patient husband has come with me on many occasions, but the whole experience becomes tiring and frustrating. So, I’d pretty much stopped going.

I’ve tried the OXSIGHT Crystal glasses in two galleries: The National Portrait Gallery in London and the Tate, Liverpool. The impact that they have had is wonderful.

woman in a gallery looking at paintings with oxsight glasses and a guide dog

Anna using OXSIGHT Crystal at the gallery

There was not a single painting in the Portrait Gallery that I couldn’t see. Even for dark paintings, I could tune the glasses so that the image became lighter and possible for me to view clearly. I could zoom out, look at a wall of paintings with a couple sweeps of my eyes, then zoom in on the painting I wanted to focus on.

The good thing about the Portrait Gallery was that I knew every painting would contain a face, although some of them were a little confusing. The Liverpool Tate, with many modern paintings, was a little more challenging but I still enjoyed my visit very much.

In the Tate, some paintings were huge and I would start by minimising them to as small a size as possible so I could see the whole picture with just a few movements of my eye. Without the glasses, even if I had good enough light to see a painting clearly, I would need several minutes to scan over it as my field of view is so low (about three degrees). I explained to Rammy from OXSIGHT that if he imagined each painting as being a jigsaw made up of 100 pieces, I could only see about three of those pieces at any one time depending on how close I was to each painting and its size. So, on this basis, my eyes would have to move over thirty times to take in a whole painting.

woman in a gallery looking at paintings with oxsight glasses and a guide dog

Great day out with Inca, Anna’s guide dog

At one point, I was asked to turn and look at a painting. I did so, and said “Do you mean the round one?” Then I realised this was something that I wouldn’t usually say as, in normal life, I can’t just glance at a painting of an average size and determine what shape it is as I see so little of it at any one time. But, with the glasses on, I did this without even thinking.

I went to the Tate last weekend and many of the paintings are still clear in my mind, particularly the colours. The paintings were often more difficult to discern than the portraits I’d seen in London, but it didn’t seem to take my companions long to get me to the same level of appreciation that they were experiencing — a minute or two perhaps. Some pictures, less than 10%, I didn’t grasp but I imagine that modern art can be like this for everyone. With an audio guide, which the Tate didn’t provide for some reason, I think I would have been right up there with the sighted visitors.

Two very enjoyable visits, and further proof that art galleries can now play a more prominent role in my life than they did before. And especially pleasing as art was something that my Mum had wished me to appreciate.

OXSIGHT North of England Low Vision Roadshow 2019

15 shows in 15 days
OUR VISION IS YOUR VISION
21st January – 8th February 2019
Manchester, Sheffield, Preston, Morecambe & many more…

OXSIGHT present the North of England Low Vision Roadshow 2019. We have joined forces with local sight loss charities to launch a debut annual event across three-weeks to tour cities across the North to allow those who are living with peripheral vision loss to try out potentially life-changing technology.

Tuesday 22nd January – Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind 10-4pm
Wednesday 23 January – Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind 10-4pm
Thursday 24th January – Bradbury Fields, Liverpool 9-3pm

Monday 28th January – Galloways Southport 1-3pm
Tuesday 29th January – Galloways Preston 10:30-3pm
Wednesday 30th January – Galloways Chorley 10:30-3pm
Thursday 31st January – Galloways Morecambe 10:30-3pm
Friday 1st February – Sight & Sound, Rotherham 10-3pm

Monday 4th February – Leeds Jewish Blind Society 10-3pm
Tuesday 5th February – ABA Leeds 11-3pm
Wednesday 6th February – Princess St. Hotel, Manchester, 10-4pm in collaboration with Henshaws

Giving the gift of sight for Christmas

Fifteen-year-old Callum from Swindon was surprised by his father which a Christmas gift which will allow him to see more clearly than he has in years. Callum has a degenerative condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa which causes peripheral vision loss and means that he only has 7% vision in his left eye and 10% in his right. The OXSIGHT Crystal smart glasses will enhance Callum’s remaining sight and widen his field of vision so that he is able to see his family more clearly at Christmas.

As well as using them over Christmas, Callum is looking forward to using the glasses at school and at the cinema. He says, “I had no idea I was getting them. It’s going to be so useful to me, especially in history class looking at textbooks. I’m excited to start using them.”

Following an event run by Retina UK and Moorfields Eye Hospital, Callum first tried the Crystal smart glasses at OXSIGHT’s Oxford clinic. He immediately responded to them, and told his dad, “I can see all of your wrinkles now”. That’s when Callum’s father hatched his plan to purchase the glasses as a surprise Christmas present. He says, “it’ll be great for him to use them when we visit his grandparents at Christmas. My mother can’t believe the technology, and my step dad was just blown away.”

Then over the Christmas period, BBC Wiltshire radio invited Callum and his dad to their studio to find out more. Here is their interview from BBC Wiltshire’s Driving Home for Christmas show.

Source: BBC Wiltshire

Ambassador Insights: Shopping Trip to Buy Settees

woman with short hair with oxsight crystal glassesGuest post by Anna.

Anna has retinitis pigementosa and became an OXSIGHT Ambassador in December 2018. She is currently enjoying all the ways that OXSIGHT Crystal is enhancing her life. 


There had been plans to buy two settees for our sitting room for quite some while. Whenever we buy something new, there tends to be quite a bit of discussion so that we make the best choice to suit both of us. Buying two settees is a lot of money and, on top of this, the choice is important as we’ll be looking at the settees and sitting on them almost every day.

My husband was particularly concerned about comfort, far more so than me. He’s tall and our present settee leaves his head unsupported. He also wanted a settee that could recline. I, on the other hand, was more interested in something that would look reasonably stylish and appropriate in our “cottage-y” front room.

So, the two of us, plus my guide dog, hit the January sales. I was not very optimistic. I thought that the chance of finding anything that would meet all our needs was highly unlikely. The trip didn’t start off well. Everything that my husband found comfortable, I thought was unstylish and ugly. For some reason, all our local settee shops are bunched together which means that you can literally walk round about six of them without getting in the car. We had been round three without any success at all. I’d seen two that I’d liked, neither of which had tall enough backs or a recline function. My husband had seen numerous settees he’d liked, and had sat in one or two of them, enjoying the comfort of a high back and an electric recliner, looking at me pleadingly: I was beginning to feel a bit guilty.

Before putting on the glasses I found myself using my hands to feel the settees in order to get an idea of their shape. I spent a lot of time asking my husband what colour the settees were, and what the patterns were like. I also found some of the shops were rather dimly lit in places and could barely see where the furniture was, let alone what style or colour it was. When the light was good enough for me to see the settees, my pinhole vision meant that I could see just a very small part at any one time (about a saucer-size worth), so it was very difficult to get an idea of the overall shape. My husband was finding it hard to explain where the settees were: he either guided me directly to them, or took my hand and placed it on the part of the settee he was talking about. I couldn’t see any of the sales assistants very clearly, if at all. It was as if their voices were appearing from nowhere.

When I put on the glasses, I could see every piece of furniture, no matter how dimly lit the shop was, with ease. I could also see the whole of a settee at once, rather than a tiny bit of it. I could see the styles very easily and see the materials and colours well. I could also see when people were pointing at things and could interact more effectively.

At one point a sales assistant came over and asked if the glasses were Google Glasses. He was very interested in them. I was amazed that I could see him so clearly. I proved it to him by describing him – “I can see you have dark hair, glasses, and a beard”. He was completely taken aback that technology could enable a woman with a guide dog to describe him so accurately.

There were a lot of sales and, to really benefit, we needed to make our minds up quickly as many of them would soon be over. The glasses enabled me to make choices with considerably more ease than if I was feeling each piece of furniture, asking my husband to describe its shape and colour, and trying to interact with sales assistants whom I could barely see.

Overall, the glasses were invaluable on our trip. We bought two settees for a great price. They are comfortable, they recline with the assistance of a motor, have tall backs, and — as far as I’m concerned — look stylish. All three of us came home happy from an unusually pain-free and successful shopping trip.

fist bumps over a desk

The Importance of Visual Impairment Awareness Training

Guest post by Daniel Williams, founder of Visualise Training and Consultancy. They work with organisations and businesses to increase awareness of the accessibility challenges faced by employees and or customers with disabilities. Daniel, himself, is registered blind and also a fully qualified rehabilitation assistant. More information can be found here.


Over two million people in the UK have a visual impairment, and employment opportunities for this huge cohort are still woefully inadequate.

For many people with disabilities however, finding employment that matches their skills and experience often does not mark the end of discriminatory employment practice, but the beginning.

 

Disability discrimination

Many people with visual impairments report feeling marginalised within the workplace, not only by managerial assumptions about their competencies, but also by the attitudes and behaviour of more immediate colleagues. They report uncomfortable working relationships and an unwillingness on the part of many of their peers to engage with them as equals, resulting in extreme workplace isolation for many.

Disability discrimination in the workplace is not generally malicious or premeditated. It is often the result of unconscious bias, a lack of information and education, and a fear of doing or saying the wrong thing, which often ironically causes far greater offence.  For example, “Did you watch TV last night” ‘Did you see that’? ‘Did you hear that’?

 

Benefits of inclusion

Disability awareness training is a great opportunity for your business/organisation to take the lead when it comes to these issues, and to ensure your organisation is as harmonious, collaborative and non-discriminatory as possible. This benefits employees/customers with disabilities, and has impact that will be felt at every level of your company or organisation.

Research increasingly demonstrates that when employees respect and share the values of an enlightened employer, job satisfaction and productivity increase, as does employee retention, whilst absenteeism decreases dramatically. Similarly, open and honest communication within a business and between colleagues is consistently shown to be one of the principal routes to increased productivity.

It is also evident that having confident and well trained staff that have undergone visual impairment awareness training puts customers with visual impairments at ease, making them more likely to return and spend money within the organisation. Research shows that people with disabilities have a spending power of 212 million, so why would you not want to retain these customers?

 

Diversity dividends

There are also many proven key benefits to retaining a diverse workforce — including people with disabilities — by ensuring they are valued and respected. Employees from minority groups, particularly those with disabilities, are massively underrepresented in the workforce, and their uniquely valuable perspectives often provide access to consumer markets that are often overlooked or poorly addressed.

Ultimately, becoming a disability confident workplace works in the self-interest of every organisation, making your company a more enlightened place to work, and helping to change attitudes and behaviour for the better. As more companies adopt these progressive policies, they slowly become the norm, radiating out through supply networks and business partnerships to the wider community.

 

Disability confidence in action

What does a disability confident workplace look like?

In essence, it is about creating a supportive, positive and inclusive environment for all workers. In a disability confident workplace, employees are informed about disability issues and are confident that their interactions with disabled colleagues will not cause offence, and as a result, staff with disabilities feel respected, included and treated with equality.

 

Learning awareness

How exactly is this confidence and harmony achieved?

Disability awareness training works by challenging attitudes amongst both those with and without a disability, increasing understanding of disability issues. Courses encourage employees to discuss their preconceptions of disability and their fears of interacting with people with disabilities.

Courses also provide a wealth of information on a range of disabilities, including acquired disabilities, hearing and visual impairments, learning disabilities and issues surrounding mental health. Often role play is also used to encourage people without disabilities to place themselves in the position of someone with a disability, and to encourage empathy and understanding of the experiences many people with disabilities face.

All of these strategies — education, information and empathy — are about closing the experience gap between employees with and without disabilities. At the same time, it is about removing barriers and embedding best practices so that everyone feels comfortable and empowered to be themselves within the workplace, and able to flourish and achieve their full potential. Because when your team is achieving their full potential, so is your business.

 

It might be that you work with an employee or customer who has sight loss but are unsure on how to guide them or avoid certain terminology as you think it might offend them.

For more information on visual impairment awareness training, please click here.

wayne with oxsight prism glasses

OXSIGHT Ambassador: Wayne

OXSIGHT were lucky enough to meet Wayne, when he came to our demo day at the Manx Society in the Isle of Man. Having lived with retinitis pigmentosa for a number of years, Wayne had originally noticed OXSIGHT on Facebook and in October, he became one of our Ambassadors.

Wayne managed to settle into the glasses really quickly and found them easy to use. “They are so straight forward to use, I’ve picked it up really easily,” said Wayne.

Helping him to watch TV, see the food on his plate and spot details in and around the house are just a few of the benefits that Wayne has enjoyed since incorporating OXSIGHT glasses into his daily life.

“Watched a film on the TV — a lot better than it used to be. Using the normal mode ups the brightness so it’s so much better and compared to without, it’s just so much better.”

Perhaps the area that has seen the most improvement is Wayne’s work life.

“They are more useful at work. They would really take it to a new level for me. I’m thinking about how I can use it in different environments.”