(Gray News) – For the first time, a woman with the most common cause of blindness – age-related macular degeneration – has been treated with an experimental gene therapy in the hopes it will halt the failing of her vision.
The BBC reported Monday that the woman, Janet Osborne, had a synthetic gene surgically injected into the back of her eye “in a bid to prevent more cells from dying.”
Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is the slow damaging of a part of the eye – the macula – critical for sharp, straight-ahead vision. According to the National Institutes of Health, it’s the leading cause of vision loss for people as they get older, particularly as they age past 50.
While it does not cause complete blindness itself, the degradation of the macula can impede “simple every day activities, such as the ability to see faces, drive, read, write, or do close work, such as cooking or fixing things around the house,” according to the NIH.
Osborne told the BBC that she finds it “difficult to recognize faces with my left eye because my central vision is blurred” as a result of AMD.
“If this treatment could stop that getting worse, it would be amazing,” she said.
Robert MacLaren, at the University of Oxford, helped administer the treatment. He also administered the first gene therapy for a rare genetic cause of blindness, choroideremia, last year.
He told the BBC that, if successful, a “genetic treatment administered early on to preserve vision in patients who would otherwise lose their sight would be a tremendous breakthrough.”
According to the network, the gene therapy aims to produce a protein that would “stop cells from dying and so keep the macula healthy.”
According to the most recent NIH survey, in 2010, there were about 2 million Americans with AMD. That number is projected to rise past 3 million by 2030, and affect more than 5 million Americans by 2050.
Osborne, who is 80, said she hoped the treatment would allow her to keep gardening and “retain my current level of independence.”