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Memory lane

Four years may have passed quickly, but science and research has come a long way

18 Aug 2016 by Olivia Wannan

Major events like the Olympics often get me thinking about the time that has elapsed since the last go-around.

The timeframes are obvious, but it seems bizarre to me that the London Games were four whole years ago.

While this (inevitably) caused me to question my own life – ‘Have I travelled enough? Seen my friends enough? Saved enough? – my curiosity also led me to the back catalogue of OT.

The science content in particular caught my eye. Around the time of the 2012 Olympics, a Canadian research team had discovered a new gene linked to Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA). I wonder if the team would have guessed that less than four years later, a gene-splicing technique to cure the condition would be pioneered right here in London.

Moorfields and University College London scientists are now able to take a piece of an affected patient’s skin, correct the DNA fault that causes LCA, and then direct these cells to become mini-retinas.

Also back in 2012, the restoration of light sensitivity in mice with photoreceptor degradation thanks to a light-reactive chemical by a University of California, Berkeley team was also making OT headlines.

Today, the therapies that may cure retinitis pigmentosa (RP) are treating patients, not rodents.

Retinal implant technology continues to improve, thanks to ongoing clinical trials. The Argus II device was also considered for NHS funding this year, though NHS England did not select the technology for routine commissioning.

Over in the US, a 15-person study is currently looking to see if a new gene therapy can make the nerve cells in the eye photosensitive. Meanwhile, a human clinical trial led by the University of California, Irvine on stem cell transplants in patients with RP has shown positive safety results, in a world first.

These developments make me wonder how eye care will change by the time we watch the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Games. It’s a topic that’s got many optometrists – especially my recent interviewee, Ian Cameron, of Cameron Optometry – very excited.

However, remembering to be balanced about the future and the impact of technology, particularly for a dreamer like me, is important.

It’s a lesson I’ve learned as I’ve investigated the changes to the Opticians Act as proposed by Lord Dick Newby, which would allow the sales of adjustable-focus spectacles over the counter – an article destined for our upcoming September edition.

It’s a feature that I hope will start a rigorous discussion on the profession’s role in shaping that 2020 world. But if, in the meantime, you are also keen to take a trip down memory lane to 2012 – or all the way back to 1999 – please check out our new CET archive.

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