Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a slowly progressive, inherited retinal degeneration affecting roughly 1 in 4000 people, typically resulting in a loss of peripheral and night vision, with most legally blind by age 40. Many RP patients seek alternative therapies because of the lack of current management options beyond nutritional supplements attempting to slow disease progression. The potential for a beneficial effect on vision in RP following electroacupuncture and/or transcorneal electrical stimulation (TES) is suggested by research on physiological ocular changes in response to these therapies, and further supported by preliminary data indicating significant improvements in vision in our ongoing randomized controlled trial that will be completed this Summer.
While the initial treatment responses with these interventions are very encouraging, the longevity of the effects and possibility of restoring diminishing vision over time with retreatments have not been elucidated in RP patients. We are interested in continuing to study these two promising therapies to document the longitudinal prognosis and determine whether there is a physiologically plausible basis for improving vision in RP (i.e., ocular blood flow improvements following retreatments), which would provide a scientific rationale for and guide the design of a future larger scale trial. We aim to periodically monitor the current trial participants who received these interventions 6-12 months prior to the proposed initiation of this study and had developed significant improvements in vision, in order to determine the duration of their initial response and administer timely retreatment when the visual benefits diminish to attempt to maintain vision in this slowly progressive disease. These results would provide a preliminary basis for eye care providers’ recommendations to RP patients regarding whether to consider these relatively inexpensive, low risk interventions as a potential treatment modality to improve and maintain vision, thus enhancing their quality of life while other promising treatments are developed.