What is Retinitis Pigmentosa?

Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) is a retinal degenerative disease. While detailed technical information on the disease is available from other sources, I prefer to explain the particulars in layman’s terms for simplicity’s sake.

RP is a rare genetic disease that attacks the light receptor cells that line the retina at the back of the eye. The light receptors, called photoreceptors, are an essential part of the process of converting light into images in the brain. RP causes the photoreceptors scattered across the retina to die. As more and more photoreceptors die, the person loses more and more vision.

RP is a progressive disease that can lead to total blindness. The progression of the disease is very individualized. The pattern and rate of vision loss is different for everyone. Typically, the progression is slow and the loss of vision is a gradual process. While some people lose the bulk of their vision in their teenage years, others can maintain some level of vision into their 70s and beyond. Some people lose their far peripheral vision initially, while others first lose vision closer to the center of the visual field. There is no way to predict the pattern of the disease or how rapidly the vision loss will progress.

There is no cure for RP at this point. However, in recent years, significant progress has been made on a variety of treatment options, including gene therapy, the electronic eye, nutritional therapy, stem cell research, and an artificial retina. These treatment options are still in various stages of clinical trials, but their progress is very encouraging. The research is advancing at a rapid pace, inspiring hope that there will be viable treatment options available in the not too distant future. Perhaps one day soon, there will be a cure for this devastating disease. 

For more detailed technical information on the disease process as well as updates on the clinical research regarding treatment options, check out The FoundationFighting Blindness at www.blindness.org

For further discussion on understanding the vision loss associated with RP, check out the other articles in this collection.

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