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Harry Orlans will work with Robert MacLaren to develop a treatment for retinitis pigmentosa.

Dr Harry Orlans is a Specialist Registrar at the Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. His fellowship is funded by Fight for Sight and the Medical Research Council (MRC). The award will enable him to undertake PhD training to develop research skills and still spend time in NHS sessions.

Dr Orlans will will work over the next three years to develop rhodopsin gene therapy to treat dominant retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited retinal disorder. Around 1 in 4 cases of dominant retinitis pigmentosa are due to faults in the rhodopsin gene.  It’s the most common genetic cause of irreversible sight loss in the UK.

Rhodopsin is the light-sensitive protein found in the photoreceptor cells of the retina known as ‘rods’. These cells are active in low light. More than 150 faults in the rhodopsin gene (RHO) have been found so far that lead to retinitis pigmentosa, which begins with the gradual loss of rods and consequent night blindness and tunnel vision.

The Fellowship involves training a new clinical academic who has shown great potential in his medical career thus far. Fight for Sight is very pleased to partner with the MRC to support Dr Orlans as he enters one of the very best environments for retinal ophthalmology research.
- Dr Dolores M Conroy, Fight for Sight's Director of Research

Dr Orlans will develop an efficient way to deliver healthy RHO to reduce the toxic effects of the faulty version on the retina. The supplementary gene will be delivered by injection of a specially engineered virus that cannot cause disease. This initial work will pave the way for future human clinical trials.

“People with a faulty rhodopsin gene form the largest group of retinitis pigmentosa patients, but the sheer variety of genetic mutations makes it unlikely that customised treatments can be developed in the near future,” said Dr Orlans. “So, instead of trying to silence specific mutations, we aim to develop a broader strategy in which we introduce large quantities of the healthy gene to try and override the system. This could be beneficial to many patients and I’m very glad to have been given the opportunity.”

Read more about the Clinical Ophthalmology Research Group.