Can Genes Be Used to Restore Eyesight?

One of the hallmarks of aging is declining eyesight; for example, past the age of forty or so, many adults begin to experience issues with reading passages at close distance. But suppose it could be possible to undo such changes?

Seeing Things Clearer

A team of researchers from Harvard Medical School was recently able to accomplish this very thing – in mice, anyway. Specifically, this group returned the eye cells in the mice’s retinas back to a youthful state, thereby restoring their vision.

So how did the Harvard team accomplish their goal? Believe it or not, an adeno-associated virus (AAV) played an essential role in this work. Using the AAV, the authors were able to transport three genes into the retinas of mice with damaged eyesight. The genes in question – known as Oct4, Sox2 and Klf4 – all have youth-restoring properties.

The mice benefited immensely from this new form of treatment. The study noted that nerves that had been previously damaged by injury exhibited significant regeneration. In addition, mice afflicted with a glaucoma-like condition saw noticeable improvement in their quality of vision. The genes also benefited mice without glaucoma, who were suffering from age-related vision loss.

From Mice to People

Senior author David Sinclair was highly encouraged by his team’s work. “Our study demonstrates that it’s possible to safely reverse the age of complex tissues such as the retina and restore its youthful biological function,” stated Sinclair, a professor of genetics in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School.

Despite the study’s success, the study authors stressed that additional research will be needed to confirm their findings. Specifically, more trials using various animal subjects will have to take place before any testing on humans can begin. Despite this caveat, the Harvard team believes their approach could eventually prove highly useful for those with declining eye health.

“If affirmed through further studies, these findings could be transformative for the care of age-related vision diseases like glaucoma and to the fields of biology and medical therapeutics for disease at large,” stated Sinclair.

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