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Monday 24th October 2016

Gene therapy may cure blindness

1st May 2007

A 23-year old man has become the first person to receive gene therapy which could restore his sight.


Robert Johnson said he had mixed feelings before the pioneering operation which went better than expected, according to his medical team.  It will be several months before the outcome of the surgery is known but hopes of a positive result are high as the procedure has already improved sight in several dogs and mice.

The team at London’s Moorfields Eye Hospital has been developing the gene therapy – the only of its kind - for 15 years.  The highly delicate procedure involved inserting a needle into Mr Johnson’s eye to deliver genes to the retina which, it is hoped, will then be able to detect light and thus allow Mr Johnson to see.  Mr Johnson’s retinal cells were damaged from birth meaning he can see just outlines in the daytime and virtually nothing at night.  If the operation on Mr Johnson is a success, surgeons believe gene therapy could go on to be used to treat a wide range of inherited sight disorders and free millions from blindness.

Speaking about the operation, leading scientist, Professor Robin Ali, from the Institute of Ophthalmology said, "There is so much riding on it and we have all been waiting for a very long time.  It is very encouraging that we can deliver genes to an extremely fragile site in the eye without complications."


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