Exploring the potential of light therapy in people with retinitis pigmentosa

  • Grant holder: Dr Hannah Dunbar
  • Institution: University College London (UCL)
  • Grant award: £53,167.95
  • Start date: July 2023
  • End date: February 2025

Why is this research needed?

Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) is a leading cause of irreversible blindness in people under 60. It is the name given to a group of inherited eye conditions that cause deterioration of the retina – the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye, which is crucial for sight. Most people with RP develop a level of sight loss that has a profound impact on their daily life. There is no single treatment for RP because it can be caused by mutations in up to 75 different genes. 

What is the aim of the project?

As we age, our retinas perform less well. Research has shown that exposure to some wavelengths (colours) of light can improve vision in older people with healthy eyes. Dr Hannah Dunbar is leading a pilot study of people with RP to see if light therapy can improve their visual function - measured by colour contrast sensitivity. Participants will be randomly assigned to two groups to test two different colours of light. The results will be compared to see which colour of light is better.

If the results show that light therapy improves their visual function, it could be the first step towards a simple, non-invasive treatment to slow the progression of a devastating blinding condition.   

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How will this research help to beat sight loss faster?

The only treatment for RP is a gene therapy for people with a mutation in one specific gene (0.6-6% of those with RP), costing the NHS some £600,000 per person. If this pilot is successful, Dr Dunbar will seek to run a larger study to see if light therapy provides a non-invasive, low cost treatment for anyone with RP, whatever their underlying genetic cause. Slowing vision loss would help people retain their independence and employment for longer and improve their quality of life and wellbeing. 

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