World-first experiment returns partial sight to the blind

2 minute read

This one’s a heart warmer!

After 40 years of blindness, a man from northern France has been given partial sight back through gene therapy treatment.

That’s right – no mockery today, just a cool story.

The 58-year-old man was diagnosed four decades ago with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease that causes the eye’s photoreceptor cells to die.

The treatment, provided by the Paris-based company GenSight Biologics, involved an injection of a virus encoding light-sensitive bacterial proteins into the retina.

This virus vector bypasses the photoreceptor cells (which would normally house these light-sensitive proteins but aren’t available in people with this disease) and delivers the load to the retinal ganglion cells, which are the second step along the pathway of sending vision signals to the brain.

The man was injected with these light-sensitive genes and then the researchers waited for four months until the retinal ganglion cells started producing the protein before checking the patient’s vision.

The man wore goggles designed to replicate the work of photoreceptor cells in processing light over several months.

After a few months, the man started to be able to interpret the dots correctly and was able to see high contrast images such as white stripes on a cross walk. 

The results, published on 24 May in Nature Medicine, were a world-first for the use of optogenetics to treat retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that affects over 2 million people worldwide. 

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