Gene Therapy To Improve Eyesight
ITN - Monday, April 28 07:32 amBreakthrough gene therapy could improve the eyesight of hundreds of thousands of people who suffer from inherited blindness.
A medical trial, which began last February, involved inserting genes into patient's eyes to correct a genetic fault that stops their retinas detecting light properly.
After treatment, the three patients involved experienced vision at least equivalent to before the operation, but one patient benefited significantly.
The research was carried out by the University College London (UCL) Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital, who received £1 million from the Department of Health.
The team conducting the trial was led by Professor Robin Ali and includes eye surgeon James Bainbridge and retinal specialist Professor Tony Moore.
Prof Ali said: "Showing for the first time that gene therapy can work in patients with eye disease is a very significant milestone"
"This trial establishes proof of principle of gene therapy for inherited retinal disease and paves the way for the development of gene therapy approaches for a broad range of eye disorders," he said.
Prof Moore added: "It is very encouraging to see that this treatment can work, even in young adults who have severely advanced disease.
The team is confident that the technique is safe and say it will test the technique on other patients with LCA. It hopes to begin trials for other forms of retinal disease in the future.
Known as Leber's congenital amaurosis (LCA), the inherited disorder causes progressive deterioration in vision and can lead to blindness in teenagers.
It occurs when faulty genes, called RPE65, stop the layer of cells at the back of the eye working.
Steven Howarth, 18, experienced significant improvement after the operation.
"When I woke up afterwards, my eyes felt uncomfortable - like sandpaper - at first I could not see anything in the eye that was operated on, but it got much better after a week, then gradually even better until it was back to normal.
"Now, my sight when it's getting dark or it's badly lit is definitely better. It's a small change but it makes a big difference to me.
"Before the operation, I used to rush home from college when it started to get dark because I was worried about getting around. Now I can take my time and stay later at college if I need to, for band rehearsals and things like that."