JIG-SAW launches regenerative medicine with software-based control of organisms and cells: developing prism glasses for visual regeneration and implanting software to control photoreceptor cells with an aim of helping blind people to regain their sight of light.


JIG-SAW (head office: Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, representative director: Masunaru Yamakawa, listed on Mothers of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, hereinafter “JIG-SAW”) and Mobicomm Inc. (JIG-SAW and Mobicomm Inc. are hereinafter collectively referred to as “our group”) have officially commenced a project for controlling organisms and cells with the use of software by applying optogenetics to eyesight in addition to research on IoT, which targets everything (hereinafter “the project”). The patent applications for related technologies have also been completed.

From early 2015, our group has diverted its original technology for DSP (digital signal processor), communication control and color signal control to regenerative medicine and collaboratively pushed forward with an effort to bring light back to the eyes (regenerate eyesight) of blind people in the eyesight regeneration project led by Hiroshi Tomita, professor (*1), and Eriko Sugano, associate professor et al. (hereinafter “Tomita Laboratory”), Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Iwate University.

(*1)Profile of Hiroshi Tomita, Ph.D.

Professor at Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Iwate University

Visiting professor at Tohoku University Hospital

Visiting researcher at Laboratory for Adaptive Intelligence of RIKEN, Japan


[Awards received]

– Travel Grant Award, NIH supported travel grant (U.S.), Retinal degeneration symposium, Bürgenstock, Switzerland (2002)

– Best Scientific Poster Award, Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology—Asia (2009)

– Commendation by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (research on gene therapy for restoring eyesight in blind persons, 2015)


To begin, we will develop software for delivering the algorithm for eyesight-regenerating prism glasses, which will be provided to patients along with a prescription for gene therapeutic agents for diseases with lowered sensitivity of the retina including agents to help with the prevention of retinitis pigmentosa (*2), which have been developed by Tomita Laboratory, undergone patent registration in Japan, U.S. and Europe and are in the preclinical stage. We will also offer the function to control photoreceptor cells by communicating with data via a computer. The project will verify the realization and application of vision regeneration to the degree that those who lost their eyesight due to a retinal disease would clearly be able to discern other persons’ faces and also read and write indoors, in dark places and in any other locations.


(*2) Retinitis pigmentosa is a retinal degenerative disease induced by an abnormal change in genes. It typically manifests in symptoms such as progressive night blindness, constriction of the visual field and visual loss and leads to a loss of color vision and eventual blindness.


[Efforts for visual regeneration]


At this point, no therapeutic procedure for reconstructing the visual function of a blind person is available. However, the genes created by Tomita Laboratory cover visible light spectrum and have successfully reconstructed the visual function of a blind rat. A preclinical study of the genes is already underway. Our group and Tomita Laboratory will commercialize the technology of software-based control of photoreceptor cells by the time the clinical study is commenced.

This March, a U.S. company, RetroSense Therapeutics (, commenced a clinical study for administering to humans the genes that Tomita Laboratory used in an early stage, namely ChR2: chlamydomonas-derived channelrhodopsin-2. The genes used in the study only have sensitivity for the color blue. For this reason, the extent of visual function recovery is expected to be very limited. As mentioned earlier, the genes for use in this project have sensitivity throughout the visible light spectrum.


A study of visual regeneration using genes has been reported in the Nature Group’s journal of gene therapy and numerous other academic reviews. This has gained international attention and expectations as one of the leading approaches to restoring the eyesight of blind people through eyeball injections. We will also develop and offer eyesight-regenerating prism glasses that are equipped with software-based control of photoreceptor cells to project images onto the retina. Patients wearing the glasses are likely to experience what is nearly equivalent to realistic vision.


[Efforts to restore light to the eyes (regenerate eyesight) of persons with acquired blindness]


Our group has retained a high level of quality of signal control technology, which is the fundamental technology of computer-based data communication. Furthermore, we have developed numerous communication modules at a career grade (*3) level.


(*3) Career grade represents a high level of quality (performance and specifications) and reliability of devices, software and systems for use by telecommunications careers in their communication networks.


The project applies technology for controlling color signals, one of our signal control technologies. The efforts and know-how for the control of photoreceptor cells for eyesight regeneration are patent pending. We are already at the verification stage of software-based control of organic substances, such as organisms and cells, in addition to the exchange of data with conventional systems, machines and other inorganic materials. More specifically, the project is in the preclinical stage after an experiment with mice. This involves directly communicating software signals to photoreceptor cells to control and treat the cells. In this way we will enter the sphere of healthcare and drug discovery, namely medicine.


Our technology for controlling photoreceptor cells is capable of regenerating eyesight by converting images into specific color signals on a real-time basis and adjusting the amount of light. Therefore, it might not be limited to gene therapies and could also be extended to many applications for the treatment of other diseases of lowered sensitivity of the retina.


The recent efforts should help to regenerate the eyesight of persons that completely lost their sight due to some form of damage to the retina, and should mark the beginning of the control of photoreceptor cells using an algorithm and color signals (data) created by our original software.


These efforts aim at enabling people around the world with acquired blindness to regain the sight of light. This means computer and software technologies would not only connect things to facilitate streamlining, but also solve many of the fundamental problems of humankind. The project marks the historic first step toward this goal. Our group’s technology for software-based control of organic substances, such as organisms and cells, will also be applied to other efforts.


[Facts about retinal pigmentary degeneration, etc. in Japan and the significance of the project]


Humankind is said to obtain 80% or more of information visually. In Japan, retinal pigmentary degeneration is the third most common cause of acquired blindness and is most common in patients with severe visual impairments with visual acuity at 0.1 or less.

Like retinal pigmentary degeneration, age-related macular degeneration may induce blindness through the degeneration of photoreceptor cells and is the most common cause of acquired blindness in Western countries. More than 700,000 people in Japan and 100 million people worldwide are estimated to have the disease. In developed countries alone, more than 25 million people are estimated to have gone blind due to any of these retinal diseases (*4).


(*4) Reference:



Developed countries


At this point, however, no therapeutic procedure for restoring visual functions is available. Aiming to reconstruct the visual function of blind persons, the project continues research on the restoration of vision through software signal data to control photoreceptor cells, which involves the intraocular administration of protein component agents and drastic recovery of optical sensitivity so that very luminous images can be projected onto the retina.


Through these studies, many different roles of the complicated systems for processing visual information will be clarified from the enormous amount of data obtained. Our group considers the project to greatly contribute to visual regeneration. Some of the studies gained support from Iwate Prefecture’s fiscal 2016 project for supporting the research and development for the creation of regional innovations.


[Relationship between the project and iPS cells]


Currently, a clinical study is underway for preparing and transplanting retinal pigment epithelial cells from iPS cells. It is intended to inhibit nerve cell degeneration or protect the nerve cells from degeneration, not to pursue the recovery of lost eyesight.

A method for eyesight regeneration using iPS cells is currently being researched and involves transplanting the photoreceptor cells prepared from iPS cells to the retina. The retina inherently has three types of cells for receiving blue, green and red light. It is currently impossible to make cells from iPS cells or to arrange and transplant them. The project is developing a technology for converting wavelengths into present images, based on the assumption that its applications can be expanded with the research on visual regeneration using iPS cells.


[Applicability to brain cells and other cells]


The retina is classified as part of the central nervous system, like the brain. It is estimated that understanding the retina’s mechanism for processing visual information would lead to an understanding of the brain’s mechanism for processing information. The photoactivation ion channels, like those in our study, are used in visual regeneration and many other applications where they are introduced to specific brain nerve cells to activate specific brain cells with the use of light. This area of research is intended to explore the possibility of light-based sleep induction, memory operation and other effects in the new area known as optogenetics.



Hiroshi Tomita, Ph.D.


1992:        Completes master’s course at the Graduate School of Agriculture, Kyoto Prefectural University

Enters Santen Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. and is assigned to Central Laboratory

1998:        Assistant professor in the Ophthalmology Course of Tohoku University School of Medicine

2002:        Overseas dispatched researcher, Japan Foundation for Aging and Health

Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Oklahoma Dean McGee Eye Institute

2004:        Assistant professor at Tohoku University Biomedical Engineering Research Organization

Leader of the Retinal Prosthesis Research Team in Division of Biofunctional Science

2008:        Associate professor at the International Advanced Research and Education Organization of Tohoku University

2012:        Professor at Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Iwate University (currently)

Visiting professor at Tohoku University Hospital (currently)

Visiting researcher at Laboratory for Adaptive Intelligence of RIKEN, Japan (currently)