A newly developed, genetically modified pig may hold the keys to the development of improved treatments and possibly even a cure for retinitis pigmentosa (RP), the most common inherited retinal disease in the United States.

The pig model was developed by researchers in the University of Louisville Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences and at the National Swine Resource and Research Center at the University of Missouri.

"We have previously relied mostly on rodent models to study the development and progression of this disease, and although very important insights have been obtained, rodent eyes are much smaller than human eyes and they lack some important retinal structures, so the development of a large animal model of RP is an important step forward in the research of this blinding disease," said Henry Kaplan, MD, Evans professor and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences at the University of Louisville, and senior investigator on this study. "This new tool, developed in the miniature swine, should allow important progress in the development of novel treatments for this disease."

The researchers used miniature pigs, which weigh about 150 pounds at maturity, because they are much more manageable than the larger, domestic pig.

"Pigs have become an important tool in helping researchers understand many human diseases," said Randall S. Prather, PhD, distinguished professor of reproductive biotechnology in the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, and investigator on the study. "Additionally, the miniature swine are much easier to handle than their larger kin and don't present researchers with as many challenges. It's important that we look for these new avenues for research as we continue our search for cures to some of the world's most prevalent diseases."

Retinitis pigmentosa affects about 1 in 4000 Americans and can cause retinal degeneration, which leads to night blindness, loss of peripheral vision, and ultimately total vision loss.

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Source: University of Louisville