Retinitis pigmentosa, one of the most common causes of blindness, could be reversed with the use of gene therapy, according to a study by the University of Oxford in England. The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study’s theory was tested on mice and proved successful after reprogramming cells at the back of the eye to become light sensitive. Researchers used a retinol protein called human melanopsin to see if they could increase light sensitivity, and were successful after one year. The study’s administrators found the mice that received this gene therapy were more aware of their surroundings than the mice that did not receive it.
The study’s lead author, Samantha de Silva, told Seeker, “Treated mice showed a number of visual responses including the ability to detect their environment based on visual information alone, whereas control mice were completely blind by this time point.” De Silva added if this method was used on blind humans, it would be “hugely beneficial in terms of navigation and quality of life.”
De Silva also said the researchers suspect this gene therapy will work in some blind humans with certain retinal degenerations, but their next step is to begin a clinical trial using this gene therapy on humans. The form of blindness that this gene therapy could treat, which is inherited retinal degenerations such as retinitis pigmentosa, is now the leading cause of blindness. De Silva said this breakthrough study will help researchers treat other forms of blindness using the same approach.
She told The Independent of her enthusiasm to use the gene therapy on patients, “There are many blind patients in our clinics and the ability to give them some sight back with a relatively simple genetic procedure is very exciting.”
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