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A team of researchers led by Liang Tian, MD, PhD and director of research at the key laboratory of aerospace medicine of the National Education Ministry, has made a breakthrough discovery in the field of vision loss; showing new hopes for treatment to protect vision.

In addition, Tian is excited that the results published in Medical Gas Research will have treatment ramifications to combat age related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa and stargardt disease.

The paper “Hydrogen-rich saline ameliorates the retina against light-induced damage in rats” unmasked a revolutionary breakthrough; in the past it was believed that as retinal activity is lost, there is little treatment could do to reverse the damage, since the retina is such a selective filter that most antioxidants don’t pass through the blood-retinal barrier.  But it turns out that might not be entirely true.  

Tian deemed this finding one of the most significant discoveries since the team showed  in 2008 that molecular hydrogen can get passed the blood brain barrier.  

What we demonstrated in our most recent study is molecular hydrogen can actually reverse retinal damage, said Tan. And we identified an antioxidant mechanism which hydrogen uses.  We found that hydrogen actually preserves vision, despite the onslaught of stress on the retina.

“This is a real paradigm shift,” Tian said.  “The precept has been that once started, retinal damage is a one-way path.  “But we found that hydrogen can actually reverse loss of photoreceptors.”

“We believe we can develop new treatments based on this mechanism to protect the retina and even recover it after acute light exposure, which will maintain vision.”

Diseases of the retina involve excessive free radical production preceding retinal damage and photoreceptor cell loss – basically as the disease progresses the polyunsaturated fatty acids that form the retina become oxidized and begin to degenerate, explained Tian.

The team used a model of age related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa and stargardt disease, some of the leading causes of irreversible blindness, to record and measure how molecular hydrogen could prevent the escalation of the disease it.

The researchers began by placing mice into 4 groups.  One group where mice suffered no damage (group 1), a second where mice were exposed to intense light, without hydrogen (group 2), a third where mice were injected with hydrogen and then exposed to intense light (group 3) and a fourth where mice were exposed to intense light and then injected with hydrogen (group 4).

“We wanted to see if molecular hydrogen would not just prevent retinal damage, but even reverse it,” says Tian.

Molecular hydrogen reduces cytotoxic oxygen radicals.  This prevents the polyunsaturated acids that form the retina from oxidizing and wasting away.

Initial damage might occur, but hydrogen keeps it from getting out of control.

Tian’s team found that the retina suffered only 30% damage in mice injected with H2 after being exposed to light compared with mice who were injected with H2 before being exposed to light (50%) and mice not at all injected with H2 (70%).  “We found that hydrogen rich saline injection may effectively promote recovery from light-induced retinal damage.”

“With these findings, we hope to use this natural protective mechanism as a means to prevent and reverse vision loss.  

Injecting hydrogen-rich saline into the intraperitoneal cavity is a simple, easy and effective method that may have significant applications for potential clinical practice.

Works Cited

Tian, L., Zhang, L., Xia, F., An, J., Sugita, Y., & Zhang, Z. (2013). Hydrogen-rich saline ameliorates the retina against light-induced damage in rats. Medical Gas Research, 3, 19. http://doi.org/10.1186/2045-9912-3-19

Wang, W., Hernandez, J., Moore, C., Jackson, J., & Narfström, K. (2016). Antioxidant supplementation increases retinal responses and decreases refractive error changes in dogs. Journal of Nutritional Science, 5, e18. http://doi.org/10.1017/jns.2016.5

Salazar-Ramiro, A., Ramírez-Ortega, D., Pérez de la Cruz, V., Hérnandez-Pedro, N. Y., González-Esquivel, D. F., Sotelo, J., & Pineda, B. (2016). Role of Redox Status in Development of Glioblastoma. Frontiers in Immunology, 7, 156. http://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2016.00156

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