Engineered virus helps treat blinding eye diseases

Washington, June 13 (ANI): Researchers have engineered a virus that is capable of delivering normal genes to difficult-to-reach retinal cells that need fixing.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, method could greatly expand gene therapy to help restore sight to patients with blinding diseases ranging from inherited defects like retinitis pigmentosa to degenerative illnesses of old age, such as macular degeneration.

Unlike current treatments, the new procedure -that takes as little as 15-minutes - is surgically non-invasive, and delivers normal genes to difficult-to-reach cells throughout the entire retina.

Over the past six years, several groups successfully treated people with a rare inherited eye disease by injecting a virus with a normal gene directly into the retina of an eye with a defective gene but virus with the normal gene was not capable of reaching all the retinal cells that need fixing.

David Schaffer, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and director of the Berkeley Stem Cell Center at the University of California, Berkeley, said that sticking a needle through the retina and injecting the engineered virus behind the retina is a risky surgical procedure.

He said that the doctors have no choice, as none of the gene delivery viruses can travel all the way through the back of the eye to reach the photoreceptors - the light sensitive cells that need the therapeutic gene.

Schaffer asserted that they have created a virus that can be injected into the liquid vitreous humor inside the eye and delivers genes to a very difficult-to-reach population of delicate cells in a way that is surgically non-invasive and safe.

The study has been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. (ANI)