A Legally Blind Optimist

Being an optimistic sort, I often preach walking on the sunny side of the street, looking through rose-colored glasses, whichever metaphor you want to use.

Optimism and vision loss

Some people think I am delusional. How is it possible to be so optimistic about something as horrible as vision loss?

Actually, it is pretty easy. If you look around, you will discover, as I have said multiple times in another forum (and here? I lose track.), this is the best time in history to be going blind!

The associations of blindness

We have left - mostly- the ancient association between blindness, sin, and criminality... What? No, really. One way the Greek and Roman Gods were said to punish sinners was to strike them blind. And how about the Judeo-Christian God? In 2 Kings Elisha prayed for the enemies of His People to be struck blind. Then there is just plain old human punishment and cruelty. Like what happened to Samson. There was a time that, if you were blind, people believed you were some version of a sinner. We have come a fair way beyond that even though I would say some of the shame associated with blindness still lingers in the culture.

Then there were the limitations in vocational opportunities. The blind got to be beggars or prostitutes. Gotten past that for the most part.

The benefits of research

But the most important reason this is the best possible time to be going blind is the research! I love researchers. I believe in science. As some of you know, I participate in a clinical trial now. They may not believe me, but I tell my research team they are stuck with me for the duration. After this, I am signing up for the longitudinal study to see the long-term effects of the treatment. Then I am signing up for the study to see how my current treatment reacts with stem cell replacement. Like the old Soviet Union, I have five, ten, and maybe even 20-year plans!

I have always had an eye on stem cell replacements. And recently I am seeing some very heartening short articles on Healio. The research is moving along at a nice pace.

Innovation and treatments

Of course, we are nowhere near being able to cure dry age-related macular degeneration and related blindness but we are on the way. The work that is being done now is replacing the retinal pigment epithelial cells. The RPEs are the “servant cells”, in my parlance. They feed the photoreceptors and clean up after them. Hopefully, by the time they have figured out how to replace and connect photoreceptors cells to the optic nerve, they will have perfected replacing the “servant” cells that are needed to care for them.

Just getting an idea of what they are working on is exciting for me. There was a time that in order to work on the retina, they needed to open the eye and extract the vitreous gel. These days they are snaking between layers of the eyeball to deliver the package to where it needs to be. That package is more often being a “patch” that will support the stem cells and give them a place to grow. There are all sorts of innovations happening and they are happening to serve people like us. Pretty cool.

So, call me a cockeyed optimist. Tell me I am delusional. I don’t care. Just remember where you heard this.

Editor's Note: As of August 2023, 2 drugs known as complement inhibitors — Syfovre® and Izervay™ — have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat the advanced stage of dry age-related macular degeneration, or geographic atrophy (GA).

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