A new gene therapy pioneered by surgeons at Oxford has improved the quality of vision for six patients who would otherwise have fallen victim to blindness. Six patients suffering from choroideremia were treated with a virus that has been modified to carry a working copy of a gene that the patients lack.
The procedure involved injecting the virus into the back of the eye. The patients reported they were better able to see in darker conditions and two were even able to read more lines on an eye chart.
The results are a welcome surprise since the treatment was originally intended to ensure the virus did not damage cells in the retina, not drastically improve the patients vision.
The surgeon in charge of the research, professor Robert MacLaren, said:
In truth we did not expect to see such dramatic improvements in visual acuity.
It is still too early to know if the gene therapy treatment will last indefinitely, but we can say that the vision improvements have been maintained as long as we have been following up the patients, which is two years in one case.
The new treatment has changed the lives of the patients to whom it was given and restored to them many of the joys of life most of us take for granted.
Speaking to the BBC, Mr Wyatt said:
My colour vision improved. Trees and flowers seemed much more vivid and I was able to see stars for the first time since I was 17 when my vision began to deteriorate.
Now I hope I'll see my grandchildren grow up.
"We really couldn't have asked for a better result,"said professor MacLaren. It is hoped that gene therapy of this kind could be used to cure other causes of blindness such as macular degeneration.
Choroideremia causes blindness in 300,000 people in Britain and a deterioration in the quality of sight for one in four people over the age of 75.