Breakthrough Gene Therapy Could Reverse Blindness In Humans

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By Mayukh Saha / Truth Theory

At the University of Montreal, researchers have proposed a novel strategy of treatment that could potentially restore sight to patients afflicted by degenerative retinal disease. This disease is an inherited medical condition that impairs a person’s ability to sense colors, read text, and see objects that are placed sideways and makes them completely blind gradually. The researchers have claimed that their proposal is quite different from the rest- for they would be effective even in cases where the illness has reached an advanced stage. Currently, there are only a few treatment options available that can prevent or slow down retinal degeneration.

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Researchers Have Devised Treatment Proposal That Could Potentially Reverse Blindness In Humans

The proposal further led to a recently published study that did shed a lot of light on the approach to reverse blindness in humans. Needless to say, this has raised the hopes of millions of people around the globe who suffer from this retinal disease. People who suffer from the degenerative retinal disease usually face a constant deterioration of the cone photoreceptor cells in their eyes which are responsible for seeing color, perceiving light intensity, and also visual sharpness. With the passage of time, the number of cone cells goes down and the patients suffer from vision loss. 

When the patient has reached the advanced or final stage of this disease, their eyes lose most of the cone cells- and the person is almost on the verge of being blind. At this point in time, there is no treatment known that can restore the cone cells in patients at this juncture. But as it turns out, the UdeM team has discovered a treatment strategy to reverse blindness in humans which would involve the activation of the dormant glial cells in the retina that would restore cone-cell activity. 

Although Fish Have The Necessary Cells That Regenerate, Mammals Don’t

Biologically, the primary role of glial cells in the retina is to render some form of metabolic support to neurons and photoreceptors that would make the eyes functional. In certain types of fish, these cells are capable of regenerating the retina if they suffer any damage. However, glial cells located in mammals don’t have a similar ability. The researchers found out that there were certain genes that would make the dormant glial cells function like cone-photoreceptors in mammals. These new cone cells will have the ability to make up for the loss of original cone cells in one’s eyes. 

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Camille Boudreau-Pinsonneault, the first author of this study and a researcher at the University mentioned that they had been able to identify the two genes that were capable of converting the glial cells into retinal neurons. The genes are named transcription factors Ikzf4 and Ikzf1. The authors of the study that sought to reverse blindness in humans also conducted an in vivo experiment on a mouse model where they were able to transform different Muller cells into cells that closely resembled the cone photoreceptors just by the activation of the Ikzf factors. 


The researchers concluded that the results were quite exciting and that this approach would hopefully allow doctors to reverse blindness in humans that was caused by a retinal degenerative disease in humans in the future. Currently, the researchers have plans to further improve their technique so that it could be implemented in patients that were living with the disease.

Image credit: 123RF


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