Gene therapy first to ‘halt’ blindness
A woman from Oxford has become the first person in the world to have gene therapy to try to halt the most common form of blindness in the Western world.
Surgeons injected a synthetic gene into the back of Janet Osborne’s eye in a bid to prevent more cells from dying.
It is the first treatment to target the underlying genetic cause of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
About 600,000 people in the UK are affected by AMD, most of whom are severely sight impaired.
Janet Osborne told BBC News: “I find it difficult to recognise faces with my left eye because my central vision is blurred – and if this treatment could stop that getting worse, it would be amazing.”
The treatment was carried out under local anaesthetic last month at Oxford Eye Hospital by Robert MacLaren, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Oxford.
He told BBC News: “A genetic treatment administered early on to preserve vision in patients who would otherwise lose their sight would be a tremendous breakthrough in ophthalmology and certainly something I hope to see in the near future.”
Mrs Osborne, 80, is the first of 10 patients with AMD taking part in a trial of the gene therapy treatment, manufactured by Gyroscope Therapeutics, funded by Syncona, the Wellcome Trust founded investment firm.
The macula is part of the retina and responsible for central vision and fine detail.
In age-related macular degeneration, the retinal cells die and are not renewed.
The risk of getting AMD increases with age.
Most of those affected, including all those on this trial, have what is known as dry AMD, where the decline in sight is gradual and can take many years.
Wet AMD can develop suddenly and lead to rapid vision loss but can be treated if caught quickly.
As some people age, genes responsible for the eye’s natural defences start to malfunction and begin destroying cells in the macula, leading to vision loss.
An injection is made at the back of the eye, which delivers a harmless virus containing a synthetic gene.
The virus infects the retinal cells and releases the gene.
This enables the eye to make a protein designed to stop cells from dying and so keep the macula healthy.