"That was a great advance, which showed that gene therapy is safe and lasts for years in humans, but this new study has the potential for a bigger impact, because it is treating a form of the disease that affects many more people," said John G. Flannery, Ph.D., a professor of neurobiology at the University of California, Berkeley who is an expert in the design of viruses for delivering replacement genes. Flannery was not involved in the current study.
The X-linked form of retinitis pigmentosa addressed in the new study is the most common, and is caused by degeneration of light-sensitive cells in the eyes known as photoreceptor cells. It starts early in life, so though affected children are often born seeing, they gradually lose their vision.
"These children often go blind in the second decade of life, which is a very crucial period," said co-author Alfred S. Lewin, Ph.D., a professor in the UF College of Medicine department of molecular genetics and microbiology and a member of the UF Genetics Institute. "This is a compelling reason to try to develop a therapy, because this disease hinders people's ability to fully experience their world."
Both Lewin and Hauswirth are members of UF's Powell Gene Therapy Center.
The UF researchers and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania performed the technically challenging task of cloning a working copy of the affected gene into a virus that served as a delivery vehicle to transport it to the appropriate part of the eye. They also cloned a genetic "switch" that would turn on the gene once it was in place, so it could start producing a protein needed for the damaged eye cells to function.
After laboratory tests proved successful, the researchers expanded their NIH-funded studies and were able to cure animals in which X-linked retinitis pigmentosa occurs naturally. The injected genes made their way only to the spot
|Contact: Czerne M. Reid|
University of Florida