New Gene Therapy Procedure Could Hold Key to Preventing Blindness for Certain Patients

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Carlsbad Eye Care ophthalmologist Dr. Michael Tracy comments on a new gene therapy procedure designed to slow or halt the progression of blindness in patients with choroideremia.

Michael Tracy, MD

Developing technologies and gene therapy are the future of ophthalmology.

A study out of the University of Oxford has developed a promising new gene therapy procedure for the treatment of a hereditary ocular condition that leads to progressive blindness in patients. Authored by Dr. Robert MacLaren, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Oxford and published in the Lancet Medical Journal on January 16, 2014, the study treated six patients suffering from choroideremia, a rare genetic disorder that mostly affects men and leads to the degeneration of the choroid and retina, eventually causing blindness. Night blindness and loss of peripheral vision are the most common symptoms of choroideremia. For the study, researchers injected the subjects with healthy genetic material in an attempt to repair the damaged portions of the patient’s own gene, halting the onset of blindness.

“Developing technologies and gene therapy are the future of ophthalmology,” said Carlsbad LASIK surgeon Dr. Michael Tracy. “In the past, there was little that could be done for certain patients facing blindness due to genetic and degenerative conditions. Gene therapy can lead to treatments that can stop the onset of blindness in certain patients before it’s too late.”

For the Oxford study, researchers used virus particles to add the genetic material to the fluid behind the retina. The goal of the therapy was for the new genetic material to fix or patch flaws in the patient’s damaged DNA. Timing was an important element of the study. The participants in the study were all treated before their visual acuity had been irreversibly diminished, giving the therapy a greater chance of success. Of the six participants, two reported significant improvement in visual acuity, the other four reported improvement in night vision and maintained the same level of visual acuity as before the treatment in the affected eye. The therapy does involve the risk of further or permanent damage as it requires detachment of the retina, but none of the participants reported further degeneration of visual acuity in the treated eye.

“This research is very important because it can pave the way for more gene therapy studies for treating other debilitating conditions that can lead to blindness, such as macular degeneration,” added Dr. Tracy.        

Dr. Michael Tracy is a board-certified ophthalmologist in Carlsbad, CA. He completed his residency training in ophthalmology at the Scheie Eye Institute at the University of Pennsylvania and his fellowship in Corneal and Refractive Surgery at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. Dr. Tracy specializes in LASIK and PRK surgery at his private practice at Carlsbad Eye Care.

To contact Carlsbad Eye Care, please visit http://carlsbad-eye-care.com/ or call (760) 603-9910.

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