Gene therapy breakthrough could improve sight

After years of exploration, I was delighted to read that scientists at Oxford Uni have succeeded in restoring the sight in people with a form of degenerative eye disease.

Choroideremia affects about 1 in 50,000 people who see their eye sight deteriorating as the light-detecting cells in their eyes die, usually becoming completely blind during their mid-life – a disease not dissimilar to the more widely known retinitis pigmentosa. There has been lots of research in this area but this is the first real world example of success.

Whilst the long-term effects are still unknown, the fact that the trial has had such early successes is a huge step forward and will give real hope to those suffering from various genetic eye diseases.

And it doesn’t stop there. There are many diseases with genetic components that affect eyesight, such as glaucoma which a number of my patients suffer from, and I am hopeful that the same principle could be used to treat a raft of similar diseases in the future.

What is especially heart-warming, is that the research was funded by the Tommy Salisbury Choroideremia Fund set up by the parents of Tommy, a 13-year-old boy from Kent who was diagnosed with the disease eight years ago. Wouldn’t it be great if he reaped the rewards of the research?

Read more about it here

Bionic eyes cometh in 2013

Australian scientists hope to have a prototype bionic eye built and ready to test on humans within the next year.

The bionic eye which we’ve highlighted before gives hope to people suffering from various types of retinal degeneration and works by implanting 98 electrodes (pictured below) into the retina to replace the damaged cells. An image from a tiny spec mounted camera is then relayed onto the electrodes in the retina. The signal is then passed through the optic nerve to the brain to all the person wearing to see the image from the camera.

Such complex work needs high-tech equipment and the lab in New South Wales has just spent $2.5mill upgrading their equipment to carry out the delicate research.

New laser technique for early AMD

A new non-invasive laser surgery technique is being developed at King’s College London that may delay the onset and development of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

retinaThe technique rejuvenates the thin layer that lies behind the retina called Bruch’s membrane which provides nutrients to the retina’s light-sensitive cells, improving the removal of waste created as retina cells renew themselves. The procedure can be carried out in 10-15 minutes by and it is suggested that it could be used as a pre-emptive treatment for people in their 30s from families with a history of AMD.

Self repairing retina

Researchers at Moorfields Eye Hospital and University College London have discovered a way to repair damaged cells in the retina.

retinaAfter trials on rats scientists now hope to develop treatments for conditions such as macular degeneration using regenerative Muller Glial (MG) cells – these cells have the ability to morph themselves into healthy versions of damaged or dying retinal cells. Dormant MG cells cells are found inside the human eye. Trials are now underway to find a way to “kick start” these naturally occurring regenerative cells. In the meantime researchers hope that active MG cells can be nurtured in a lab and transplanted into human eyes.

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