Genetic scientists have made a breakthrough discovery, capable of curing colour blindness - a condition that affects millions worldwide.
Scientists working on the project, from the University of Washington, in Seattle and the University of Florida, managed to cure two monkey’s colour blindness. The technique is expected to be suitable to restore normal vision as well as help with other visual disorders that are related to the cones in the retina.
“Although colour blindness is only moderately life-altering, we have shown we can cure a cone disease in a primate and that it can be done very safely,” said Professor William Hauswirth, an ophthalmic molecular geneticist at the University of Florida. “That is extremely encouraging for the development of therapies for human cone diseases that really are blinding.”
People with red-green colour blindness do not have the ability to tell colours apart that are in the green-red-yellow spectrum. Simple tasks like reading a map, using the internent or even picking out co-ordinating clothes can become impossible.
Currently around 8 per cent of Caucasian males suffer from the condition, however under 0.5 per cent of females are affected.
In order to have normal colour vision, the eye must have three types of cone in the retina, sensitive to light in the blue, green, and red parts of the spectrum. Dalton and Sam - the squirrel monkeys used in the study - do not posess a gene known as L opsin that is required for the red-sensitive cone. This gene defect is the cause for the majority of human red-green colour blindness.
The monkey’s colour blind status was confirmed by scientists using a touchscreen test. When they were able to distinguish various patterns of coloured dots they received grape juice as a reward, however the monkeys could not correctly identify between grey, green and red dots.
The study, which was published today in the journal Nature, saw scientists correct the monkey’s vision by infecting their retinas with a virus, that held the L opsin gene on it. Over a period of 24 weeks the monkey’s became able to distinguish between the patterns of grey, green and red dots.
The positive results of the technique revealed that the brain has the capability to rewire itself. The virus that the monkeys were infected with - known as adeno-associated virus, is not thought to cause disease in humans. In addition, two years after the monkey study, neither animal has shown any signs of being harmed by the treatment.
Scientists are now hoping to get to permission to start studies in colour-blind humans. “People who are colour-blind feel that they are missing out,” Jay Neitz, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Washington, said. “ If we could find a way to do this with complete safety in human eyes I think there would be a lot of people who would want it.”
Famous Colour Blind People
Mark Twain writer; Peter Ebdon snooker player; Meat Loaf singer; Jack Nicklaus golfer; Bing Crosby singer; Bob Dole US politician; Bill Clinton former US President; Keanu Reeves actor; Bill Beaumont former England rugby captain; Chris Rogers cricketer; John Dalton (developed theory of atomic structure)