[AI] Gene Therapy Aids Youth's Sight

shahnaz shycurrim at yahoo.co.in
Tue Apr 29 04:39:23 EDT 2008

  Gene therapy 'aids youth's sight'
Pallab Ghosh
science correspondent
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                        See how the treatment
has changed Stephen Howarth's vision
                        A 17-year-old whose
sight was failing has had his vision
improved in a pioneering operation carried out by
doctors at Moorfields Eye Hospital.
                        The London researchers
used gene therapy to regenerate the
dying cells in Stephen Howarth's right eye.
                        As a result he can now
confidently walk alone in darkened
rooms and streets for the first time.
                        Stephen is the third
person to have the operation, and the
researchers expect even better results in future
                        Before the procedure,
he could hardly see at all at night
and in time he would have lost his sight completely.
                        His condition was due
to a faulty gene that meant that the
light-detecting cells at the back of his eye were
damaged and slowly degenerating
                        But, in a delicate
operation, surgeons at Moorfields injected
working copies of the gene into the back of Stephen's
                        After a few months,
doctors detected some improvements.
                        But Stephen did not
notice these changes until he confidently
strode through a dimly-lit maze designed to test his
                        Until then he had kept
walking into walls - and it would
take him nearly a minute to walk a few feet.
                        His doctors were shocked at
the improvement.
                        Professor Robin Ali, of
the Institute for Ophthalmology,
who led the trial, said: "To get this indication
after only three patients is hugely
                        "I find it difficult to
remember being as excited as I am
today about our science and what it might achieve."
                        'Cracks in the pavement'
                        The operation gave
Stephen the confidence to try out his
improved night-time vision on the streets near his
home in Bolton.
                        Before he had only been
able to see the bright lights of
passing cars, street lamps and brightly-lit
buildings but, to his amazement, he found
he could see beyond the bright lights. For the
first time he could see the cracks
on the pavement, the edge of the curb and markings on
the street.
                        He recently began
walking home late at night from the railway
                        James Bainbridge, the
consultant surgeon who carried out
the operation, said: "It's hugely rewarding and
exciting to see that this new treatment
can have this impact on a person's quality of life."
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                        'To not have to worry about
losing my sight is great'
                        Stephen also says that
it has really helped his confidence.
                        He is now able to
socialise more late at night with his
friends. And, as an aspiring musician, he says he
can see the frets on his guitar
better - and can move around more on a darkened stage.
                        There may well be
further improvements. But without the
operation it was likely that Stephen would have lost
his sight altogether.
                        The prospect made him
depressed. Now he says he can get
on with his life.
                        "When I used to think
about it, it would get me really down
and depressed. But now I don't have to think
about it. It's a big burden lifted."
                        Child sight hope
                        The gene therapy has
not improved the vision of the other
two patients who have received it so far - but it
may well stop their vision from
declining further.
                        Robert Johnson was the
first person to undergo the operation,
as reported by BBC News in May 2007.
                        He welcomed the results
so far: "For the team, I am thrilled
that their hard work has come off.
                        This is only the beginning
                        James Bainbridge
                        "For me - I am simply
pleased that I left what I entered
with - a level of sight that gives me my freedom. What
more could I ask for?"
                        Professor Ali said that
the team now hoped to treat children:
"The next stage is to increase the dose of the
gene which we anticipate will improve
the outcome - and it's also to treat younger
patients, who have better residual vision
and in whom we expect to see a much greater benefit."
                        Although the genetic
condition that is being treated is
rare, the researchers believe that their
technique could be used to treat a wide
variety of sight disorders, possibly even age-related
sight loss.
                        Mr Bainbridge added: "This is
only the beginning.
                        "What we've
demonstrated so far is proof of principle that
gene therapy can be used to treat a particular gene
                        The research, which has
been funded by the Department of
Health, has been published online in the New England
Journal of Medicine.
                        Health Minister Dawn
Primarolo said: "This is absolutely
                        "It's been done here in
the UK with the expertise of the
NHS and the science and research of the
Department of Health all coming together
to offer such hope for gene therapy for the
correction of sight - but also for gene
therapy generally."
Story from BBC NEWS:

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