September 16, 2009

Therapy cures colorblindness in monkeys

U.S. scientists say gene therapy used to cure colorblindness in two squirrel monkeys might lead to similar treatments to cure adult human vision disorders.

Researchers from the University of Florida and the University of Washington said their new gene therapy has the potential to treat human disorders involving cone cells in the eyes. Colorblindness, they noted, is the most common genetic disorder occurring in humans

We've added red sensitivity to cone cells in animals that are born with a condition that is exactly like human colorblindness, said University of Florida Professor William Hauswirth. Although colorblindness is only moderately life-altering, we've shown we can cure a cone disease in a primate, and that it can be done very safely. That's extremely encouraging for the development of therapies for human cone diseases that really are blinding.

Researchers estimate there are about 3.5 million people in the United States, 13 million in India and more than 16 million in China who are colorblind.

If we could find a way to do this with complete safety in human eyes, as we did with monkeys, I think there would be a lot of people who would want it, said University of Washington Professor Jay Neitz. Beyond that, we hope this technology will be useful in correcting lots of different vision disorders.

The study appears in the early online edition of the journal Nature.