Cal researchers use gene therapy to help blind mice see again

BERKELEY (KGO) -- A group of Bay Area scientists has made an incredible breakthrough in gene therapy that could one day restore eyesight to the blind.

After years of research, the scientists at University of California, Berkeley came up with a relatively simple solution.

They used a inactive virus to transfer the gene for a light sensitive receptor, cone opsin, to the retina of blind mice. Within a few weeks, other cells in the eye developed light sensitivity.

"We are trying to add a new function with gene therapy to another cell. This isn't trying to keep the photo receptors cells from dying, it is trying to make other cells light sensitive to take their place," said John Flannery, U.C. Berkeley Professor of Optometry.

Flannery said the treatment is promising because it can be used on patients with different causes of blindness.

It is estimated that about 170 million people worldwide suffer from age-related macular degeneration, which affects one in 10 people over the age of 55.

Researchers say that within three years this type of gene therapy could be tried on humans who have lost eyesight due to retinal degeneration.

Click here for more information on the gene therapy research.
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