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Breakthrough: This newly discovered therapy may help restore sight to blind

Researchers might be able to reverse blindness by reprogramming cells at the back of the eye to become light sensitive. Read on to know how.

health Updated: Oct 04, 2017 16:00 IST
Asian News International, Washington DC
Blindness,Research,Study
Retinitis pigmentosa is the most common cause of blindness in young people.(Shutterstock)

Earlier this year, it was reported that the world’s blind population is set to triple in the next 3 decades. Now, British researchers have recently shown that gene therapy might reverse blindness by reprogramming cells at the back of the eye to become light sensitive. According to the University of Oxford in England researchers, most causes of untreatable blindness occur due to loss of the millions of light sensitive photoreceptor cells that line the retina, similar to the pixels in a digital camera.

The remaining retinal nerve cells, which are not light sensitive, however remain in the eye. Lead researcher Samantha de Silva said, “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.”

The team used a viral vector to express a light sensitive protein, melanopsin, in the residual retinal cells in mice, which were blind from retinitis pigmentosa, the most common cause of blindness in young people. The mice were monitored for over a year and they maintained vision during this time, being able to recognise objects in their environment which indicated a high level of visual perception. The cells expressing melanopsin were able to respond to light and send visual signals to the brain.

The team has also been trialling an electronic retina successfully in blind patients, but the genetic approach may have advantages in being simpler to administer. Robert MacLaren and Mark Hankins at the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology in Oxford led the research. “Our next step will be to start a clinical trial to assess this in patients,” Silva noted.

First Published: Oct 04, 2017 15:58 IST