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Global specialists discuss gene therapy in ophthalmology

Last Updated: Thursday, February 4, 2010 - 00:00

Bangalore: Specialists from different parts
of the world discussed the emerging diagnostic and treatment
options offered by gene therapy in ophthalmology at a two-day
international conference.

Participants at the conference, which concluded on Thursday,
said using frontline genetic tools, it was now possible to
catch the early footprints of a disease of the eye in the
children that causes blindness.

While gene therapy has been discussed and debated world
over as `future medicine`, it was now a reality in select
diseases of the eye, especially in children, they said.

Genetic therapy has made significant progress in certain
groups of eye diseases, especially among new-born and children
who suffer from blindness due to a genetic aberration.

The therapy is most profound in a disease called Leber
Congenital Amaurosis (LCA), a rare genetic disorder in which
retinal dysfunction causes vision loss.

"What is important is to tell people that the complexity
of these disorders is huge and research is warranted to find
therapies", Prof Helene Dollfus, a genetic eye diseases doctor
from France`s University of Strasbourg, told reporters.

She said not all genes are known yet and not all the
cellular mechanisms leading to the retinal degeneration have
been disentangled. However, huge progress emerged with gene
therapy developed by innovative laboratories.

Prof Michael J Denton from New Zealand`s University of
Otego and a consultant to the John Templeton Foundation, said
there had been significant breakthrough in cases involving
defects in one of the genes -- called RPE65.

Patients with defect in the gene that nourishes the retina
and functions in the epithelial cells which line the back of
the retina have experienced markedly improved vision after
having received injections into the back of the eye of good
copies of the RPE65 gene.

Head of Research, Narayana Nethralaya, Rohit Shetty
said ten per cent of blindness is due to gene abnormalities
and 60 per cent are in children.

"The future of treatment will be directed at identifying
the causative abnormal genes and correcting them using gene
therapy", Shetty added.

The conference hosted by Narayana Nethralaya, a private
eye hospital, was the first of its kind in the country,
organisers said.


First Published: Thursday, February 4, 2010 - 00:00

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