RetroSense Therapeutics is a biotechnology company that is a spinoff of Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. RetroSense opened an office in Ann Arbor, Michigan (not too far from our office) and is founded by Sean Ainsworth. Ainsworth is out to prove that a gene in blue-green pond algae can help the blind see again. Pond algae has photosensitive cells that can detect where the sun is shining on a pond and it moves in that direction in order to convert the light into energy. The photosensitivity of those cells are based on a gene called channelrhodopsin-2 (Chop2).
Based on research on small animals at Wayne State, it was discovered that when Chop2 was transplanted into a retina, it can convert non-photosensitive retinal cells into photosensitive cells. Ainsworth is licensing technology from Wayne State based on research work from Zhuo-Hua Pan. People with diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration could essentially have black-and-white vision brought back partially. It will be at least six years before RetroSense has anything on the market. They plan to begin larger rounds of small-animal studies done in the next year. They will start the FDA Phase 1 test in 2012.
Fortunately RetroSense is working with investors to keep the company working. The company was given a grant of $163,000 through the Qualifying Therapeutic Discovery Project (a project between the NIH and the IRS). Ann Arbor Spark said that they plan to provide consulting and other support services. And the First Step Ventures fund said that they will invest $50,000 when the company hits $500,000 in fundraising in its seed-round target of $700,000.