One blind Briton has become the first patient in the world to undergo a DNA modification therapy for retinitis pigmentosa. This experimental treatment, which took place at the Oxford Eye Hospital, was designed to treat the x-linked genetic eye disorder that often causes blindness in younger patients.
Doctors involved in this procedure say that everything went according to plan. The patient, 29, is now resting at home with his family. Although the DNA therapy was successful, doctors still need to monitor this man's eyes in the ensuing months to track the progress of this surgery.
Robert MacLaren, who teaches ophthalmology at the University of Oxford, told reporters it will take a few years before we know whether or not this patient's retinae stop degenerating. However, Dr. MacLaren is cautiously optimistic that this latest gene therapy will soon make retinitis pigmentosa a thing of the past.
People with retinitis pigmentosa are prone to blindness due to a maladaptive genetic trait. Dr. MacLaren explained that all of life on Earth is made up of the genetic letters A, T, C, and G. The RPGR gene, which gives instructions on proper protein distribution in the eyes, tends to be overbalanced in retinitis pigmentosa patients with two of the essential letters: G and A. This causes an imbalance in the patient's eyes and often leads to early blindness.
Doctors were able to literally replace the maladaptive genetic code in the patient's eyes using the latest in genetic therapy technology. The healthy DNA was placed within the young man's eyes using a harmless virus.
Oxford doctors are now looking for 24 more patients with retinitis pigmentosa to try this gene therapy. After they've collected data from all of these patients, they will have a better understanding of just how successful this therapy really is. As mentioned above, it will probably take years before the world knows how effective this new genetic therapy is.
Although retinitis pigmentosa is rare, it is the leading cause of blindness in young people around the world. Most people with this disease start noticing visual symptoms such as tunnel vision in their mid-teens. There are currently no effective treatments for this genetic condition, but all doctors recommend people with the disease wear professional sunglasses when outdoors.
Around 15,000 U.K. citizens are diagnosed with this disease each year. Retinitis pigmentosa can be diagnosed using visual field tests, genetic tests, and an electroretinography.