Blind patients see promising results from gene therapy - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Blind patients see promising results from gene therapy

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Jonathon Wyatt's eyesight is improving thanks to a new experimental treatment.

"I feel I had come to the edge of the abyss. Professor MacLaren had tapped me on the shoulder and said come this way, it's possible to see again," Wyatt said.

Wyatt has a rare inherited form of progressive blindness found only in men. He and five others took part in an experiment that replaced a defective gene in his eye.

Researchers are calling the procedure a major breakthrough.

"Rather than taking a pill or proteins or tablets, we're actually correcting the disease at the genetic level," said Dr. Robert MacLaren of the University of Oxford.

Scientists injected a harmless virus into Wyatt's eye. The virus carried a missing protein that helps eye cells detect light. Researchers say all six men can now see better in dim light. At least two have shown dramatic improvement.

"I don't trip over things the same way and when I go out and look up I can see the night sky," Wyatt said.

"We're going to be looking at the 21st century as the century in genetic medicine in the eye," MacLaren said.

Wyatt hopes his positive results encourage others.

"For all those people with genetic and retinal disease who I think may be well helped," Wyatt said.

Researchers hope they can use gene therapy to treat more diseases that cause of blindness within the next five years.

The study results are published in the journal Lancet. The study was designed to test the safety of the treatment, not how effective it is. So more research is needed.

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