A fight against blindness
October 20, 2016
When Elaine Cain and her husband Al moved to Orange County from
Michigan five years ago, their goal was to be close to family. They had no idea
the move would also bring them hope for Elaine’s vision for the first time.
Cain has been losing vision since age 32, when she was diagnosed with
Usher syndrome, a congenital condition that causes both hearing loss and
retinitis pigmentosa (RP), the degeneration of retinal cells in the eye.
Cain, now 70, first began losing peripheral vision as the rods — the cells
responsible for vision in dim light — were affected, a common pattern in
retinitis pigmentosa patients.
Then she lost some of her color perception as
the cones degenerated, until her vision became limited to a tunnel of less
Dr. Baruch Kuppermann, chief of retina services at UC Irvine Health Gavin
Herbert Eye Institute and one of the top-ranked retinal specialists in his
field, enrolled Cain in a clinical trial that uses progenitor retinal cells injected
into the eye. This first-of-its-kind stem cell-based treatment for retinitis
pigmentosa, developed by UC Irvine Health ophthalmologists Dr. Henry
Klassen, Dr. Jing Yang and colleagues, was approved by the Food and Drug
Administration for clinical trial last year.
“This new approach to treatment offers the chance of really improving
the quality of vision and life for people with RP, and it is exciting to be
involved in this innovative project, especially since so many of the patients
are noticing a difference,” Kuppermann said.
The Phase 1 and 2 clinical trial has undergone four FDA reviews, and researchers
with the UC Irvine Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center have reported that the
treatment is safe and well-tolerated by the first group of patients.
Within weeks after treatment in her left eye, Cain began regaining
peripheral vision, which has continued to improve.
“When I leave my daughter’s house at dusk, now I can find my own way to
the car,” Cain said, still a little amazed. It’s not known exactly how much of her
vision will return, but she’s eager for the clinical trial to end so that she can get
an injection in her other eye, to gain a bigger perspective on her new world.
Learn more about UC Irvine Health’s innovative eye care services at ucirvinehealth.org/eyecare.
— UC Irvine Health Marketing & Communications
Featured in UC Irvine Health Live Well Magazine Fall 2016