Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 3rd 2016 Contents A24
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Tuesday, May 3, 2016
A genetic therapy has improved the vision of
patients who would otherwise have gone blind.
A clinical study has shown that the improvement
is long-lasting and so the therapy is suitable to be
offered as a treatment.
The researchers will apply for approval to begin
trials to treat more common forms of blindness, such
as macular degeneration, next year. The results have
been published in the New England Journal of Med-
A team at Oxford University are treating a rare
disorder called choroideremia. The disorder affects
young men whose light-detecting cells in the backs
of their eyes are dying because they have inherited
a faulty gene.
Until now there has been no treatment and they
gradually become blind. The therapy involves injecting
a working copy of the gene into the back of their
eyes to stop more cells from dying. The researchers
found that not only does the treatment halt the dis-
ease, it revives some of the dying cells and improves
the patient s vision, in some cases markedly.
A 24-year-old history teacher, Joe Pepper, who
works at St John s school in Leatherhead in Surrey,
is the latest patient to have been treated. Joe played
for Hayes Cricket Club in Kent as a boy, but was
forced to give it up when he was 16 when his vision
But he could see well enough to continue his love
of the game as a coach at his school.
Without the gene therapy he would have had to
have given that up too within a few years, as he grad-
ually became blind. The prospect terrified him.
"When I was 18 my vision was in a very bad place,"
he said, "(my sight) was degenerating at quite a
He told me: "I was scared of what would have
happened, I was scared of not being able to see or
live the life I had. And now to have the belief that
that s not going to happen is a weight off your shoul-
Joe is popular with the pupils. He is jovial and
laughs a lot. He teaches sport and history with a
passion and enthusiasm that are infectious. But his
positive personality belies the fact that the past few
years have been challenging for him as his sight wors-
"It was really quite upsetting, not only for me, but
for my family. I was never blind but every year there
would be something new to compensate for, so my
life was never steady and it was the constant changes
that affected me the most, particularly when I was
18."Joe had his operation in October and began to
notice an improvement soon after.
"After the operation I was looking into our garden
and I could see more but I wasn t sure.
"I didn t tell my mum and dad. I didn t want to
let anyone get excited until we had done a simple
vision test in a week s time."
The test involved reading a sight chart of letters.
Each line on the chart had progressively smaller
letters. He read line after line, going four lines beyond
where he had ever read before. The medical staff
"Everyone in the room just looked at me and I
looked at them," he said reliving the moment.
"Anna, the research nurse, was taking me back
out of the waiting room and she just looked at me
and said it was fantastic ---both of us just had tears
in our eyes."
The clinical study is small. The gene therapy has
been tried out on 14 patients in the UK and 18 in
the US, Canada and Germany over the past four and
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and advice
Gene therapy reverses
sight loss and is long-lasting
Joe Pepper was slowly going blind until
a gene therapy reversed his sight loss.
a half years. The remainder have stories that are
similar to Joe s.
As the researchers have gained confidence in their
treatment, they have tried it out on progressively
younger patients who still have reasonably good
Joe is the youngest and the most successful so far.
This suggests that the gene therapy may be most
effective on younger patients before the disease
becomes irreversible. (BBC)
"I didn't tell my mom
and dad. I didn't want to
let anyone get excited
until we had done a
simple vision test in a
The test involved
reading a sight chart of
letters. Each line on the
chart had progressively
He read line after line,
going four lines beyond
where he had ever read
before. The medical
staff were astounded.
Links Archive May 2nd 2016 May 4th 2016 Navigation Previous Page Next Page