Ivonne Bressers has appointed a knight of the Order of Oranje-Nassau.

Mayor Ahmed Marcouch and Ivonne Bressers

King Willem-Alexander has appointed Ivonne Bressers (57) a knight of the Order of Oranje-Nassau. As president of the Dutch Usher syndrome Foundation and the driving force behind it, she is of inestimable value to the Usher patient group. Mayor Marcouch presented the award during the “lintjesregen” at the City Hall in Arnhem.

Ivonne Bressers has Usher syndrome. Most people with this very rare disorder are born hearing impaired or deaf and experience progressive sight and hearing loss. There are 400,000 patients worldwide, including 1,000 in the Netherlands who suffer from Usher syndrome. There is currently no treatment to stop the process of becoming deaf and blind. Ivonne’s deepest wish is that in 2025 there will be a treatment for every Usher syndrome patient.

Ambitious volunteer
From 2009 to 2015, Ivonne volunteered tirelessly and unpaid for the interests of the deafblind patient group. She participates as a volunteer in various working groups of the Eye Association OOG & OOR and makes great strides. With her project group, she managed to ensure that the second cochlear implant (an implanted hearing prosthesis) for deafblind people is fully reimbursed by health insurers. She also initiated the establishment of a national expertise center for patients with Usher syndrome within the Radboudumc. Nowadays, these patients can come here with their specific care needs.

Usher syndrome Foundation
In 2015 Ivonne starts in the campaign team of the Dutch Usher syndrome Foundation and joins as general board member in 2016. In 2019, she is appointed president of the foundation. A task she performs with enthusiasm, dedication and vigor.

From its inception until now, Ivonne, together with the efforts of volunteers for the Foundation, has managed to raise more than 1.1 million euros. The funds received are used to finance very promising scientific research, both at home and abroad, into an effective treatment for people with Usher syndrome.

The Royal Decoration is an extra stimulus for Ivonne to keep working on fulfilling her deepest wish: “in 2025 Ushersyndrome will be treatable for everyone”.

New type of Usher Syndrome discovered: USH IV   

LEES ARTIKEL IN HET NEDERLANDS

The team of the Hearing & Genes Expert Centre of Radboudumc lately made a discovery: Usher Syndrome includes four different clinical types. The researchers, with Hedwig Velde as principal author, recently published their study and findings in the leading Human Genetics. With the identification of minor faults (mutations) in the ARSG gene and the description of a new clinical picture, they confirm the discovery of a fourth type of Usher Syndrome. 

This really is an important discovery, which gives more clarity about a number of patients with atypical Usher complaints without a genetic diagnosis. In the meantime, following the identification of ARSG as Usher gene, globally fifteen people have still been diagnosed, now that they all appear to have mutations in the ARSG gene. As it has been demonstrated that these patients have a common pattern of symptoms, this is no longer an atypical picture, but it makes up a new clinical type.       

A patient with an atypical clinical picture
Very rarely a patients visits the outpatients’ clinic showing symptoms that correspond with the clinical picture of Usher Syndrome (loss of hearing combined with retinitis pigmentosa), but which picture deviates from the familiar Usher types. This is called an atypical clinical picture. In some cases no generic cause is found in the Usher genes that are known so far. Consequentially, these patients are unfortunately sent home again without having been diagnosed (and without any clarity). 

Hedwig velde

 Hedwig Velde is researcher and doctoral candidate at the ENT section Hearing & Genes of the Radboudumc. She is studying patients who suffer from loss of hearing but who have not been genetically diagnosed. With her research team she confirmed a new Usher Syndrome type, which is caused by minor faults in the ARSG gene.  

A publication from the year 2018 written by a group of scientists in Israel described the discovery of the ARSG gene with Arylsulfatase G as a protein that might be involved with Usher Syndrome. The researchers from Israel described five persons from three families who all had the same minor fault in the ARSG gene. Such a publication may give other researchers ideas for their studies.  

Studying the DNA of several people within one family sharing the same symptoms is a big help for scientists. Hedwig Velde: “There is a big chance that all patients within the family share the same genetic cause. When outside the family that has been studied another patient is found with the same atypical clinical picture and a minor fault in the same gene, this may confirm the relation between the gene and the clinical picture. Of course, the chance of coming across this patient is really small. Usher Syndrome is very rare.”  

Until the national Expert Centre in the Radboud UMC saw a patient with this atypical clinical picture of Usher Syndrome and Hedwig Velde and other researchers in the Radboud UMC continued the study that was started by the team in Israel in 2018.    

New type now confirmed
With the publication of Hedwig Velde c.s. the researchers confirmed this new type. The researchers found minor faults in the same gene (the ARSG gene), which creates the codes for the Arylsulfatase G protein. This protein is involved in the degradation of another protein and the idea is that malfunctioning of Arylsulfatase G will lead to an adverse accumulation of the protein that normally should be destroyed. With this study the research team also demonstrated that the minor faults in the ARSG gene that have been found really result in a non-functioning protein.  

The clinical picture of the type does not fit in with the already known Usher types I, II and III. Apart from a later starting age of both the loss of hearing and the retinitis pigmentosa, the ophthalmic defects are more centrally located. This means that the vision problems with these patients rather occur in the central part of the field of vision as opposed to the other Usher types, which usually show problems in the outer part of the field of vision (the periphery). As the clinical picture is consistent with all USH IV patients, researchers of the Radboud UMC are of the opinion that this is not atypical Usher, but a new clinical type: Usher Syndrome type 4.   

Hedwig: “By publishing these findings, we as researchers hope to start up a discussion in the scientific world. Various studies may together lead to the confirmation that the findings are correct or, in some cases, rebut these findings. In case of USH IV it is the accumulation of evidence in several publications that enables us to confirm that this clinical type really is a new Usher type.”    

By now, globally several patients have been diagnosed for this Usher Syndrome type and for minor faults in the same ARSG gene. Previously, these patients used to be categorised in the group ‘diagnosis unknown with atypical Usher symptoms’.    

The course of Usher Syndrome type IV
Both the loss of hearing and the complaints related to retinitis pigmentosa start at a later age with people suffering from USH IV. Patients started to develop complaints concerning hardness of hearing between the ages of 20 and 40 and the retinitis pigmentosa between the ages of 40 and 60. Based on the audiograms of USH IV patients, the research team has been able to calculate that the loss of hearing starts about the age of 17.  

The course and the progressiveness are not necessarily milder than with the other Usher types. “We still have little insight into the course of USH IV, because only fifteen patients have been described and we therefore have to base our findings on this small group.” 

Genetic tests or not?
With this discovery the researchers of the Radboudumc have managed to fit in yet another piece of the ‘Usher puzzle’.” Thanks to this, a part of the patients with an unknown diagnosis will eventually be given clarity and this is really important to this group of patients.  

Unfortunately, there still are people for whom the Usher-related symptoms cannot be confirmed by a diagnosis. This makes genetic tests so important!    

The physicians indicate that, of course, the choice is still to be made by the patient. One patient attaches a lot of value to a confirmation by means of genetic tests, while another does not.  
Hedwig: “There are various reasons to have genetic tests done or not. An advantage of a genetic diagnosis is that with this the development of a disorder can better be predicted and that this may help the patient to adapt to the situation. Imagine that you are hard of hearing at a young age and that there is a small chance of becoming visually impaired. However, if you know that you will be visually impaired, then you had better concentrate on the kind of care that will help you both early and later in life. For instance, in this case learning sign language will not be a long-term solution for your loss of hearing, but good hearing aids may make a substantial contribution.”  

Genetic tests will also help the scientific world to get further. For example, as scientific research allows for comparing the DNA of various patients, new genetic causes can be discovered. Besides, this offers a possibility for meticulously mapping out the relation between a minor fault in a gene and the corresponding complaints.
Hedwig: “Because of this, future patients can be better informed about their diagnoses. On the other hand, it is also important for any future genetic treatments to know the exact underlying deviations in the DNA.”    

Usher Syndrome: 4 types and 11 genes involved
In 2022, type IV and the ARSG gene will be added to the list of Usher types and genes involved in the development of Usher Syndrome. So at this moment, Usher Syndrome distinguishes 4 types with 11 different genes involved. [Ed.: This evidence is not entirely conclusive for USH1J (CIB2) yet]
For all these genes scientific evidence has been provided that minor faults (mutations) in these genes will result in Usher Syndrome.    

The Knowledge Portal of the Usher Syndrome Foundation provides a complete overview of the genes with the names of the ‘protein involved’.     

Here you can read the publication of the article by Hedwig Velde c.s. in Human Genetics.  

 

Run4Usher Zandvoort breaks all records!

LEES ARTIKEL IN HET NEDERLANDS

On the 27th of March, the Run4Usher team joined almost 12.000 other runners at the start of the Zandvoort Circuit Run. This beautiful spring day set the scene for one of the first major running events of the year. The Ushers Syndrome Foundation was chosen by Rotary Zandvoort as the official charity for this edition of the Zandvoort Circuit Run. Not only adults appeared at the start; for the young participants there was also a special Kids Run. The large team of Run4Usher broke all records on this wonderful day and collected the fantastic amount of € 85.427,- !

Pole Position
From Pole Position, the 185 participants of Run4Usher started the 13th edition of this spectacular running event.  The program consisted of various courses: the 10 English Mile (16.1 km), 12 km and 4 km (One Lap) and for the youngest participants there was the special Kids Circuit Run and the Wheelers and Racerunner Race. Also Carol Brill and Debs Heffernan from Usher Syndrome Ireland had been specially flown in for a one-lap track over the circuit.

In the special tent of Run4Usher at the Paddock there was the opportunity to meet each other and share the solidarity. After the Kids Circuit Run, the young participants were treated to various activities led by a large group of volunteers, there was candy floss, face painting and costumes as well as go-kart races at the Paddock.

Rijsterbij
The rapper Rijsterbij (Martijn Rijsenbrij) gave a benefit concert, selling his CDs and donating the proceeds to Stichting Ushersyndroom. Martijn Rijsenbrij sings Dutch hip-hop with solid beats. “It’s getting dark, all the lights are going out, but I’m not going to wait for the day it gets dark, to that thought I say thunder”. Martijn has the eye disease Retinitis Pigmentosa, just like all people with Usher syndrome.

All records broken
The participation and presence of the Run4Usher team did not go unnoticed and generated a lot of attention for Ushersyndrome during the event and in the media.

The proceeds for the Ushersyndrome Foundation are a record: the runners and their supporters, the volunteers who collected at the event and the additional proceeds from LeChampion and Rotary Zandvoort together raised € 85.327,- !

A long haul
For the project group, the organisation has also been a challenging time. The team that organised this edition of Run4Usher consisted of ‘Ushers’ Machteld Cossee and Carin de Bruin and ‘Usher parents’ Daan Wijsbek, Esmé Ter Stege and Liesbeth Kenters. Machteld: “I remember that in mid 2019 the first contact was made with the Rotary Club and Le Champion. We were going to watch and gain experience at Stichting Hartekind, which had been chosen as the Charity for that year, but unfortunately the pandemic threw a spanner in the works.”
Despite this, the project group continued to make plans and recorded a promo with John Williams, a Dutch celebrity. Because you never know!
Unfortunately, the 2021 edition of the Zandvoort Circuit Run was also cancelled due to corona.

Until the end of 2021, event organisation Le Champion cautiously gave the go-ahead.
“We had to switch gears for a moment and suddenly we were back in business. It took a lot of Zoom meetings and group apps to get everything right,” say parents Daan and Esmé. “Various interviews, sending out newsletters and having to arrange all the practical matters at the last minute, it was simply top-class sport! according to Carin. The ever-calm Liesbeth thinks it has been a matter of long breath. “We did it, and we did it well”. Fortunately, the project group was able to count on the support and assistance of a huge group of volunteers for the practical help.

Record proceeds
Thanks to sponsorships from runners, the sale of merchandise and volunteers who collected during the event, they managed to raise a staggering € 65.427,- !
On 11 April last, the members of the project group received a cheque from the Rotary Zandvoort and event organisation Le Champion.
This brings the total record revenue of € 85.327,- !

Thanks to the financial support of “Stichting ter verbetering van het lot der Blinden” for the incurred expenses, the entire proceeds of Run4Usher Zandvoort Circuit Run can benefit scientific research into and treatment of Usher, in order to stop the process of becoming deaf and blind. In this way, the dot on the horizon for people with Usher syndrome is coming ever closer.

Here you can see all the photos of the Run4Usher edition Zandvoort Circuit. With many thanks to photographer Sanne ter Horst.

Click me

Would you like to be part of the Run4Usher team? Or would you like to help organize the next Run4Usher edition during the Seven Hills Run (19 and 20 November) in Nijmegen? Then please contact us via the mail run4usher@ushersyndroom.nl

Moon-Rocket Grant

Usher Syndrome Foundation Grant Call:
The Moon-Rocket Grant

The use of the word ‘Ushers’ for people with Usher syndrome is meant with a wink and refers to the meaning of the English word ‘Ushers’. People with Usher syndrome are the messengers of an important story or message.

The ‘Ushers’ tell what they need, what kind of help they need, what they find important and how they experience their life with Usher syndrome.

Currently, there is no treatment available for 400.000 ‘Ushers’ in the world. What is needed for the ‘Ushers’ is more knowledge and research into the Usher Syndrome. That is why Stichting Ushersyndroom [Dutch Usher Syndrome Foundation] awards the Moon-Rocked Grant: € 100,000 for research into Usher Syndrome.

The Moon-Rocket Grant
The goal of the Moon-Rocket Grant of the Usher Syndrome Foundation is to realize our formulated moonshot: “a cure for Usher in 2025!”.

The Moon-Rocket Grant is intended to financially support research into Usher Syndrome (any form or subtype).
All research proposals submitted must fit into one of the four core values ​​the Usher Syndrome Foundation has defined by:

  • Treatment
  • Understanding
  • Diagnostics
  • Impact

The Moon-Rocket Grant will award a maximum of €100,000 per research. If there are several eligible projects, more projects can be funded. A maximum of € 200,000 is available for financing.

For more information click on the buttons below.

MOON-ROCKET GRANT FLYER GRANT CALL APPLICATION FORM

Do you have any questions or would you like to receive the application form in Word version? Mail to research@ushersyndroom.nl

1 million euro

What has Stichting Ushersyndroom [Dutch Usher syndrome Foundation] done with it?

We provide an overview and a glimpse into the future.

Mini genes USH2A
In the ‘mini genes’ project, the USH2A gene is artificially made smaller by taking specific parts of the gene and sticking these together (= minigene). This suddenly makes it possible to insert these minigenes into the current vectors for use in genetic therapy.
In this project the therapeutic effect of shortened USH2A protein variants will be tested in the zebrafish model.
The Stichting Ushersyndroom finances this study in 2016.

Read more ….

CRUSH study
The expertise centre for Usher Syndrome in Radboudumc started in 2019 a natural development study into Usher Syndrome, de CRUSH study.
This is a very important step in the research into a treatment for Usher Syndrome, because this study may substantially shorten the running time for trials. Stichting Ushersyndroom finances this five-year study.

Read more …

Mini genes USH2C

In 2019, the Usher Syndrome Foundation funded the new research into Minigenes for USH2c. USH2c is caused by mutations in the USH2c gene (ADGRV1), and these errors in the gene lead to a progressive form of hereditary deafblindness. However, this gene is very large, so researchers want to try to make an artificially shortened version of the ADGRV1 gene. These mini-genes will be small enough to fit into a ‘viral vector’, but at the same time they must also remain functional.

Read more …

Knowledge portal Usher syndrome

The Usher Syndrome knowledge portal is made available by Stichting Ushersyndroom.
A portal that has been developed for and by people with Usher syndrome in which they have bundled all their knowledge and information as experience experts and ‘Usher experts’.

Read more ….

Sleeping research
Are patients suffering from Usher Syndrome so tired because of the huge efforts made in connection with their poor hearing and eyesight or is something else going on? Researchers in the Radboudumc try to find an answers to this question. There are indications that perhaps there is more going on, a genetic cause.
In summer of 2021, the research into ‘The recognition of sleeping problems with patients with the USH2A gene’ stared. Stichting Ushersyndroom will finance a large part of this study.

Read moe ….

Database USHIII

This year in 2021, the North-American foundation Usher III Initiative has taken preliminary steps towards collecting the information necessary to establish the first comprehensive global USH3 patient database. This resource will be critical to the design of future clinical trials and will significantly advance knowledge of the disease and its impact on patients.
Stichting Ushersyndroom has committed to making a contribution to support this effort.

Read more ….

Extra large vectors on mini retinas

Stichting Ushersyndroom is funding the majority of the new research “Genetic drugs preventing blindness due to loss of USH2A function” which has recently started. The research team led by Jan Wijnholds, who works at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), will test two treatment methods on ‘mini-retinas’ made from human stem cells. The researchers want to determine if the light sensitive cells in the mini-retinas can be activated by the light-sensitive cells after administration of gene therapy.

Read more ……

The dot om the horizon

The mission of the Stichting Ushersyndroom is: “In 2025, Usher Syndrome will be treatable!” This is the all-encompassing goal, the “moonshot”, from which everything else is derived. This is why Stichting Ushersyndroom is here.

  • At the beginning of 2022, Stichting Ushersyndroom will send out a call: The Moon Rocket Grant. Researchers worldwide can submit an application for a grant that contributes to the mission ofStichting Ushersyndroom: “Usher Syndrome will be treatable by 2025!”.
  • A patient brochure is in the works and will be released in early 2022. It will be available online and offline.
  • In 2022 we will start with the first webinar. This is accessible to everyone who is committed to the mission of the Stichting Ushersyndroom. A new webinar with a different speaker every quarter.
  • Of course we also want to send out a new call: Rocket Fuel Grant. And the desire to be able to subsidize even more research projects that can lead to a solution for all people with Usher syndrome.

We are well on our way to the dot on the horizon! However, a lot of money is still needed. Can we count on your support again in the coming years?

Do you have any questions or do you want to support the foundation? Send an email to info@ushersyndroom.nl

DONATE

What would you do with one million euros?

By Nico de Milliano, Chairman of the Advisory Board of Stichting Ushersyndroom [Dutch Usher syndrome Foundation]

Stichting Ushersyndroom will soon reach a wonderful milestone: the first million will be brought in even before the end of the year. And we want to celebrate this!

What is Usher Syndrome?
Usher Syndrome is a rare hereditary disorder. The children suffering from this disorder are born deaf or hard of hearing and-they will also experience a progressive loss of eyesight. Eventually, people suffering from Usher Syndrome become both deaf and blind. About 1000 people in Netherlands suffer from this syndrome.

What is Stichting Ushersyndroom?
An active group of people who are suffering from Usher Syndrome themselves or who are partner, parent or friend of someone suffering from Usher Syndrome. Stichting Ushersyndroom has existed for about six years and its mission has been formulated as: ‘A treatment for Usher Syndrome in 2025’.

In order to reach this goal, the Usher Syndrome Foundation is committed to making the syndrome more widely known, to bringing people suffering from Usher Syndrome together and to being active in fundraising.

The foundation closely works together with similar organisations abroad, such as the US, Ireland and the UK and it has good contacts with research centres all over the world.

What is money needed for?
Most of all, money is needed to finance research. As this is about a rare disorder, governments and businesses want to spend no or little money on research.

Usher Syndrome is a genetic disorder. In recent years, large steps have been taken in research that are to lead to treatment methods. The mission of the foundation is realistic, but a lot of money will be required in the coming years.

What are we going to do with one million euros?
Stichting Ushersyndroom  is really happy that we have been able to collect such a large amount of money within a few years. Thanks and honour to all those who, with large and small campaigns, have achieved this.

The money will be used for various research projects in the Netherlands and abroad. We will mention a few:

  • A study into the natural development by the Expert Centre for Usher Syndrome in Radboudumc Nijmegen, the Netherlands, will receive an amount of € 257,000 in the period 2019-2024;
  • We make a contribution of € 10,000 to setting up a database for Usher-III patients in the US;
  • We co-finance a study into sleeping problems experienced by people suffering from Usher Syndrome.

The work has not been done yet!!
Research is a long-winded matter. Therefore more money will be needed in the years to come.
Therefore, the Stichting Ushersyndroom will keep working really hard to fulfil its mission.

Let’s go for two million!

Read also:
What has Stichting Ushersyndroom done with one million euros? Here take a look at the complete overview.

New research: testing gene therapy

With extra large vectors on mini retinas 

Prof. Dr. Jan Wijnholds and promovendus Rossella Valenzano

Stichting Ushersyndroom [ Dutch Usher Syndrome Foundation] is funding the majority of the new research “Genetic drugs preventing blindness due to loss of USH2A function” which has recently started. The research team led by Jan Wijnholds, who works at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), will test two treatment methods on ‘mini-retinas’ made from human stem cells. The researchers want to determine if the light sensitive cells in the mini-retinas can be activated by the light-sensitive cells after administration of gene therapy. Can the USH2a gene in the retina be replaced or is it also possible to repair the defective gene at the same time?

 

Gene therapy looks very promising and developments in this area are moving very quickly. It is a treatment method for hereditary disorders where healthy copies of genes, with errors (= mutations) have been found, in patients are replaced or repaired in the cells of an organ.

Research shows that after gene therapy, the retina can make normal connections with other cells, which can lead to a light response again. After delivering a healthy copy of the gene or repairing the gene, the retina makes the proteins it needs to see properly. With gene therapy you treat the entire gene so that it does not matter what kind of mutations you have.

Means of transport for the large USH2A gene
In gene therapy, a healthy copy of the gene is delivered to a specific location in the retina of the eye using a molecular truck, or a means of transport. This is usually done using a virus that has first been rendered harmless so that a vector remains, a kind of ‘packaging’. The most commonly used vector is the adeno-associated viral vector (AAV).
However, there is a problem. The USH2A gene is much too large for a normal AAV vector, so another alternative must be sought to deliver the large healthy copy of the USH2A gene into a patient’s eye.

Large trucks as vector
Previously, in collaboration with Dr Manuel A.F.V Gonçalves (Department of Chemical Cell Biology), the researchers in Jan Wijnholds’ lab at the LUMC, have developed new vectors into which very large genes fit, the so-called High-Capacity Adenoviral Vectors (HcAdV).
The large USH2A gene fits completely into this vector. As a result, this vector can serve as a molecular truck and can be used as a vector for gene therapy.

Mini retinas
In the research project “Genetic drugs preventing blindness due to USH2A function”, human mutant USH2A iPSC retinal organoids are used to test several new high-DNA capacity gene therapy vectors. These USH2A ‘organoids’ are ‘mini-retinas’ made from cell lines derived from USH2A patients.

These ‘mini-retinas’ are used because they allow to study the effect of loss of USH2A protein (Usherin) in the cilium of the photoreceptor. The cilium transports the essential proteins in the retina. These ‘organoids’, made from patient cell lines, could also be used in the future to test gene therapy for retinal disorders due to mutations in other Usher genes.

Replace gene and/or edit gene
In the research project of Jan Wijnholds, two types of gene therapy are being tested on the ‘mini retinas’. The first type of therapy candidate is an HcAdV vector containing a healthy copy of the USH2A gene that, after delivery, replaces the defective USH2A gene in the retina. We call this gene replacement therapy. The healthy copy of the gene must activate the gene in the photoreceptors of the ‘mini retinas’, the ‘organoids’.

The second type of therapy candidate is an HcAdV vector containing ‘a repair kit’ and, after delivery into the retina, repairs the defective USH2A gene in the eye itself. This is also known as gene editing therapy, CRISPR-Cas9 is used for this. CRISPR are pieces of DNA with codes that can detect the defective gene. The Cas9 is an enzyme that ‘cuts’ out the defective gene and ‘sticks’ a new healthy piece of DNA in it.

Both the CRISPR and Cas9 are transported in a cassette and delivered into the retina by an HcAdV vector. The USH2A gene is edited and repaired at its destination.

Promises for large groups of patients
Both technologies for genetherapeutic application are not dependent on the type of mutations in the USH2A gene. If the USH2A gene is found to be expressed in the light-sensitive cells of the mini-retinas thanks to one or both techniques, the treatment may become available to all patients with USH2A. When more money becomes available for research for these two techniques , the research team of Jan Wijnholds could also test these for other Usher genes, and could possibly also be a solution for patients with mutations in Usher genes other than USH2A.

The mission of Stichting Ushersyndroom
Annouk van Nunen, secretary of Stichting Ushersyndroom, is very pleased with the start of this research. Stichting Ushersyndroom’s mission is “In 2025, Usher Syndrome will be treatable!”.Annouk: “We want all patients to have a realistic prospect in 2025 of a treatment that can slow down, stop or even restore the further deterioration of their hearing and vision”.

The big challenge for scientists is to explore multiple research routes in order to eventually develop a treatment for all people with Usher syndrome. Stichting Ushersyndroom therefore stimulates as many lines of research as possible, so that people with Usher Syndrome can make their dreams come true. “It is fantastic that so much research is being done into Usher Syndrome in the Netherlands. This type of research is hopeful for all USH2A patients. But if it works, it could also be a solution for patients with mutations in other Usher genes, Annouk van Nunen.

This four-year study, which started in November, has been budgeted at € 250.000. Stichting Ushersyndroom is contributing € 85.000 to this research. Other funds that have contributed are: Rotterdamse Stichting Blindenbelangen, LSBS, Stichting Blindenhulp and a partial contribution from the LUMC Ophthalmology Departmen

Minigenes USH2A: General status

By Erwin van Wijk, lead researcher Radboudumc

Errors in the code of the USH2A gene explain the development of Usher syndrome in about 50% of all patients.
In addition to Usher syndrome, these errors can also lead to non-syndromic Retinitis Pigmentosa; loss of sight but without the hearing problems.
The USH2A gene contains the code for the protein usherin. After translation, the mistakes in the genetic code of USH2A also end up in the usherin protein, with the result that this protein loses its function and people lose their sight (and hearing). Giving patients a new copy of the USH2A gene that does not contain these errors could be an obvious solution. This is the principle of gene therapy.

However, for USH2A this is not as easy as it sounds.

New copies of genes are delivered with inactivated viruses, into which the genes are packaged. These viruses can be seen as small trucks. However, the loading platforms of the viruses are small. So small, in fact, that the USH2A gene simply doesn’t fit. Developing a classical gene therapy for USH2A is therefore extremely difficult from a technical point of view.

As an alternative, we have the “genetic patch” methodology, also known as exon skipping. The first patch tested is performed on patients tested in clinical trials.

Good news, but only for a limited target audience. QR-421a works for people with errors in a specific part of the USH2A gene: exon 13. This method can be extended to other USH2A genes and even to other Usher genes, but always remains only applicable for a limited number of patients.

Is there no alternative?

A few years ago we started with a new idea: can we not artificially shrink the USH2A gene, so that it fits in the loading platform of a virus and can therefore be delivered to the place where it is needed and can be used by all people with USH2A-related retinitis pigmentosa?

The main advantage is that, if effective, this method may be of value to all patients with USH2A-related retinal problems. The project “Minigenes USH2A” was born and made possible in part by a contribution from the Dutch Usher Syndrome Foundation (Stichting Ushersyndroom).

Four shortened USH2A genes were made and inserted into the retina of the USH2A zebrafish model. The shortened usherin proteins made from these minigenes in the zebrafish eye ended up in the right place in the light-sensitive cells of the retina, rods and cones. Functional tests by measuring electroretinograms (= ERG) indicate that these mini-usherin proteins are indeed (partially) functional. We have patented these results. How well they work remains to be investigated, but it is a promising starting point for further developing this method.

In the meantime, we are also looking into cultured cells to see where these mini-proteins go and whether they do not accumulate in a place where we would not want this. Fish, of course, are not people. It is therefore important to translate these results into models that are closer to humans.

We are currently trying to establish a partnership with a company that can help us take these important next steps.

Read also:

Stichting Ushersyndroom good cause Zandvoort Circuit Run

The popular Zandvoort Circuit Run will be held again on Sunday 27 March 2022. As a runner you must have run this unique race once in your life. The Zandvoort Circuit Run is known as the most varied track in the Netherlands. This year Stichting Ushersyndroom (the Dutch Usher Syndrome Foundation) was selected the official good cause.

© Zandvoort Circuit

Sprint from the pit lane into the direction of the hills and the compound banking. All distances run a full lap on the circuit. After this the long-distance track goes into the direction of the beach, the dunes and the village. The start and finish are on the Formula 1 circuit of Zandvoort.

Start and finish on the Formula 1 circuit!
You start and finish on the circuit and run a few kilometres on the beach, in the dunes and through the nice coastal village. You can choose between the 10 English Miles (16.1 km), 12 kilometres (competition run) of the 4 km (one lap). There also is the Circuit Run Specials and the Kids Circuit Run for children. Children (between 4 and 12 years old) with a wheeler or RaceRunner can also participate!

It is also possible to participate in the Zandvoort Circuit Business Run with your colleagues. This is a perfect opportunity for team building. Challenge your team to appear at the start of the 13th edition of the Zandvoort Circuit Run on Sunday 27 March.

There will be nice activities for the children around the paddock.

Rotary Club Zandvoort and Stichting Ushersyndroom 
Special attention will be paid to the funding of good causes. The formula in ‘Zandvoort’, which includes the organisation of fund raising for good causes in cooperation with the Rotary Club, is unique.

The organisation hopes to collect donations by means of voluntary contributions from the entrants and by making use of special Rotary teams. The Rotary Club Zandvoort will make known the proceeds some weeks after the Zandvoort Circuit Run.

We are really proud and grateful that the Usher Syndrome Foundation is the good cause of the Zandvoort Circuit Run edition 22.

Heading for the point on the horizon
Whatever track you choose, you can create your own sponsor campaign and ask people to sponsor you for the Usher Syndrome Foundation. The proceeds of the Zandvoort Circuit Run and your sponsor campaign will be used to finance scientific research into a treatment for Usher Syndrome. At this moment, there is no treatment yet that can stop people from becoming both deaf and blind caused by Usher Syndrome, but there is hope! The mission of Stichting Ushersyndroom is ‘There will be a treatment for Usher Syndrome in 2025!’. This is the point on the horizon we are heading for!

Entry and registration

  1. Quickly register for the Zandvoort Circuit Run! You can do this here.
  2. If you run together with your running buddy because you are visually impaired or (deaf) blind? Please send us an e-mail through run4usher@ushersyndroom.nl and you will receive the instructions for how your buddy can register.
  3. Start a sponsor campaign after your registration and raise money for Stichting Ushersyndroom. You can create a campaign here.

Run4Usher team
It will be even more fun to be part of the sociable Run4Usher team and to run in our nice shirt with our mascot USHIE.

After your registration for the Zandvoort Circuit Run, also present yourself for the Run4Usher team through run4usher@ushersyndroom.nl and receive all the practical information you need.

Take action together with us and John Williams and join in the run!

Let’s collect money together to finance research into a treatment. In this way we can stop the process of becoming both deaf and blind caused by Usher Syndrome.

See you on the Formula 1 Circuit on Sunday 27 March!

Look here for additional information about the Zandvoort Circuit Run

Two generations on the big screen

Living with Usher and at the same time wanting to be a role model for others

On the International Usher Awareness Day 2021, the documentary Stilte in de Nacht [Silence in the night] had its premiere on television and after this it was shown through YouTube. This made the documentary accessible for the general public.
Lisanne van Spronsen and Milou op ten Berg, the makers of this documentary, followed Joyce de Ruiter and Nikki de Punder with their cameras for a few months.
Two generations with Usher. Both strong women who hold a positive view of life, who know what they want and who act as role models for their own generations as well. 

Sandra Vijverberg talked with both ladies to hear how they experienced their participation in this documentary.

More than a school project 
Joyce was in particular positively surprised by the professional way of working and passion of Lisanne and Milou and that it turned out to be a lot more than just a ‘school project’. Professional photos were made for the promotion and film poster and Lisanne and Milou started a crowd funding action, which enabled them to make a very nice donation to the Stichting Ushersyndroom (Dutch Usher Syndrome Foundation). The ladies did not limit themselves to making the documentary, but they also made various podcasts for Stilte in de Nacht.
As speaker and author, Joyce is used to sharing her story on stage and in her book. Accepting the presence of the camera near her made her feel vulnerable, but at the same time it was a nice thing to do.
Nikki really liked being part of it. She tells us that she does not talk a lot about Usher and about what it means to her. However, especially the approach of Lisanne and Milou made things feel very safe. “Because they managed to make me feel so comfortable, I dared to honestly answer all questions.”

On the big screen 
The question of how they felt about seeing themselves on the big screen and later on television makes Joyce laugh out loud. Terrible!”, she laughs. It really is very strange to realise that a lot of people who are completely unknown to you know about you.” Nikki thought it was very special. “It always is strange to look at yourself, in particular on a film screen of 50×25 metres!” The documentary had already been shown to the ladies when it was nearly finished, later at  the premiere in the theatre and then again recently on television. Nikki continues: “We watched the television premiere together at the home of Lisanne’s parents. My parents had also come, Joyce was present with her family and, of course, Milou was there as well. This made it feel like a kind of reunion.”

Role model for fellow-sufferers 
The ladies received really a lot of reactions to the documentary. Very nice and positive reactions, but Joyce also received a reaction from someone who has a person suffering from RP in her environment. Joyce: “She told me that his person has so much problems with this, that he or she finds it unbearable to live with the diagnosis. This was really heavy. On the other hand, it confirmed to me how important it is to have role models in fellow-sufferers. Role models who can inspire you, who can support you. Persons who inspire me personally give me a lot of strength every day again. Hopefully Nikki and I can also be that for our fellow-sufferers. To me understanding this is the best thing the documentary has brought me.”

In the spotlights 
Joyce tells us that, despite the fact that this also is a part of her work, it sometimes is quite difficult for her to always put herself in the spotlights again.
Trying to find the spotlights for the Usher Syndrome Foundation is something she does for the good cause: It gives me the confirmation and the strength that we, people suffering from Usher, have to keep shouting from the rooftops what the impact is of this disease and that more money is needed for treatment.”

Inspiring for others
Nikki received a lot of reactions through Insta from friends as well as from people unknown to her. Besides, the documentary resulted in a nice article about her in the newspaper (insert link). This article led to an invitation for the talk show ‘M’ of Margriet van de Linden (insert link) and she also visited Anky van Grunsven. This has resulted in a steady friendship.” She continues: “this is again one of the best things that participating in this documentary has brought me. Apart from this, a lot of people will by now understand why I sometimes cannot follow things, do not hear well or why I sometimes am a bit careful in the dark, for instance. The very best thing is, however, that there are people telling me that I inspire them. This never was my intention, but it certainly is very nice to hear.”

Silence in the night (Stilte in de Nacht)
The documentary Stilte in de Nacht can be watched with Dutch and English subtitling

Spanish film festival 
By now, it has become known that Stilte in de Nacht has been selected for the Spanish film festival Certamen Raras.” This special film festival is about rare diseases and health.

The jury will announce the best documentary on 15 November 2021. Also an audience prize will be presented for which can be voted from the Netherlands as well. Voting for Stilte in de Nacht can be done through via the button below. You can vote for Silence in the night via the button below.

VOTING

Read also:
Colour me blind

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