Could gene therapy lead to a cure for blindness?

Blindness is a condition that can be extraordinarily limiting, whether a person was born blind or suffers from a health problem that leads to blindness later in life. Many people who are blind require considerable accommodations and assistance on a regular basis, and it can actually be considered to be a disabling condition that prohibits a person from working.

However, there has been considerable research into blindness in an effort to treat it and advancements are helping people gain or regain the ability to see certain things, like lights. One recent study took these efforts one step further and may eventually help blind people actually detect objects in natural light.

Researchers took a human gene that enables sight and put it inside a virus that was given to blind mice. Once the gene reached a certain part of the eye, it was switched on and mice that could not see before were able to see a simulated owl approaching and were able to run away from it. The blind mice that did not have the gene did not detect the approaching owl.

In many cases, blindness occurs because the rods and cones in a person’s eye are destroyed.┬áThis study is exciting in that it uses human gene therapy to replace malfunctioning genes with healthy genes so the ability to sense light can be restored, allowing the brain to interpret the signals.

Scientists believe that it could be possible for this treatment to be effective in humans, though much more testing is necessary.

While this is certainly promising research, the fact is that such measures are not yet available and blindness is still something that millions of people deal with. Unless and until a treatment can be available, it may be wise for people who are blind to understand that there are financial resources in place, including disability benefits, which can provide critical support in the event that their blindness keeps them from working.

Source: Tech Times, “A Cure For Blindness May Be In Sight Thanks To Vision Cell-Restoring Gene Therapy,” Andrea Alfano, Aug. 18, 2015