Research teams at three RPB-supported institutions have collaborated in curing color blindness with gene therapy, the second successful application of gene therapy in treating an eye disorder. RPB also supported the previously announced gene therapy treatment of Lebers congenital amaurosis.
Color blindness affects approximately 10 percent of men and about .5 percent of women in the U.S., in varying degrees of severity. Mild color vision deficiencies are unlikely to cause difficulties performing daily tasks, but individuals with severe color vision defects have problems distinguishing many colors from each other. This can affect schoolwork and may even disqualify people from a job that has a color vision requirement. In a classroom of 20 children, it is likely that at least one will have a problem discerning color.
These findings are significant in several regards. They prove that visual function absent from birth can be "added" later in life. They demonstrate the ability to replace a missing photo-pigment in the retina. Perhaps most important, they show that an adult brain can rewire itself to "learn" to discriminate color, which is encouraging for the possibility of using gene therapy to treat a variety of human vision disorders.
September 18, 2009