An acupuncture study of retinitis pigmentosa conducted by Johns Hopkins University

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

This study was published in the prestigious Clinical and Experimental Optometry Journal.


Patients received 10 thirty-minute acupuncture treatments over a two-week period. Acupuncture styles included electroacupuncture, local acupuncture and body-style acupuncture. Local points included acupuncture needles on the forehead and below the eyes. Testing showed that some of the subjects improved in both eyes after only one week of acupuncture treatment and the results lasted between 10 to 12 months. Dark adaptation increased significantly in the subjects. Night vision and the ability to see in darkened regions improved significantly in subjects. Several other visual field improvements were noted in the subjects including expansion of visibility within are

larger visual field. The researchers concluded that acupuncture “entails minimal risk if administered by a well-trained acupuncturist and may have significant, measurable benefits on residual visual function in patients with retinitis pigmentosa, in particular scotopic sensitivity, which had not previously been studied.”


Figure 1.

Line graph indicating full-field stimulus threshold (FST) dark-adapted sensitivity for each

subject across visits, with the mean and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for three measures at

each time. Subject ID numbers are indicated to the right of their corresponding results. The

previously reported normal range is indicated in the grey shaded area. Three of nine subjects with reliably measurable dark-adapted full-field stimulus thresholds experienced a significant 10.3 to 17.5 dB (that is, 13- to 53-fold) improvement in full-field

stimulus thresholds dark-adapted sensitivity in both eyes at one week after treatment

(subjects 1, 3 and 5), which is outside the typical test-retest variability (95% CI) of 3.0 to 3.6 dB for the full-field stimulus thresholds in retinitis pigmentosa and was maintained for

at least 10 to 12 months.


Figure 2.

Scotopic Sensitivity Tester (SST)-1 dark-adaptation curve data for subjects 11 and 12, drawn with black and red lines, respectively. Each curve represents the detection time at the pretreatment or one or six weeks after treatment, at the stimulus intensities plotted along the

coordinate. Data from normally sighted controls are drawn with thin black lines; each curve

represents one individual's mean detection time across four visits.


A mean improvement of 43 percent (range 36 to 53 percent across intensities was found; that is, more rapid dark-adaptation) in subject 11 and mean improvement of 54 percent (range 43 to 62 per cent from 10 to 30 dB) in subject 12 at one week after treatment in Figure 2. These changes reflect reductions in the time required to reach a certain level of intensity when comparing before and after treatment and were outside the typical coefficient of variation of less than 30 percent for the SST-1that was previously determined for patients with retinitis pigmentosa and normal subjects.


Figure 3.

Spectral-domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT) images from subjects 3 (left panels) and 8 (right panels) with a cross-section obtained through the fovea, demonstrating intraretinal cystoid macular oedema at the pre-treatment visit (top panels) that diminished after treatment (lower panels).


Significant improvements for ETDRS VA or Pelli-Robson contrast sensitivity occurred in one subject (subject 11) with 0.2 logMAR or two lines of improvement and another subject (subject 3) with 0.55 logCS or four steps of improvement. The only subject with a significant change in contrast sensitivity also developed a reduction in cystoid macular oedema observed with SDOCT post-treatment.

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