Surgeons have for the first time tried to stop a common form of blindness with a single injection of gene therapy.
A team from Oxford University has spent the last 12 years experimenting with gene therapies to slow down or halt the progress of various eye diseases.
So far, most of the treatments they have done have relatively rare problems, such as choroideremia, which affects 1,200 people in the UK, and retinitis pigmentosa, which affects 16,000.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects 600,000 people in the UK. Ideally, ideally, gene therapy would only have to be done once, as the effects are considered permanent [File photo]
Now, surgeons have made their first attempt to stop age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness, and affected 600,000 people in the UK.
The team is conducting a study of ten patients at the Oxford Eye Hospital.
The small study is mainly used to test their safety. However, over time, it should indicate if the treatment is working. In this case, a much larger study is started.
The first patient, Janet Osborne, 80, who was treated with local anesthesia last month, said central vision in her left eye has deteriorated and is very blurred, making household chores very difficult.
"I still enjoy working with my husband Nick, who grows a lot of vegetables," she told BBC News.
The surgery involves detaching the retina and injecting a solution with a virus underneath. The virus contains a modified DNA sequence that infects cells and corrects the gene defect that causes AMD [File photo]
"If I can continue peeling and cutting the vegetables and maintaining my current level of independence, that would be wonderful.
"I did not think about myself.
"I thought of other people, for me I hope my eyesight will not get any worse, that would be great, which means that I would not be so uncomfortable with my family."
The project leader, Professor Robert MacLaren, whose study is funded by the gene therapy company Gyroscope Therapeutics, said, "AMD is the leading cause of untreatable blindness in the developed world.
"Early genetic treatment to maintain vision in patients who would otherwise lose their eyesight would be a tremendous breakthrough and certainly something I would hope to see in the near future."
The trial focuses on dry AMD, resulting in a slow deterioration of the cells in the fundus.
It affects the central part of a patient's view of gaps or "stains", making daily activities such as face reading and recognition difficult.
The surgery involves detaching the retina and injecting a solution with a virus underneath.
The virus contains a modified DNA sequence that infects cells and corrects the gene defect that causes AMD.
Ideally, ideally, gene therapy would only have to be done once, as the effects are considered permanent.
Professor MacLaren said, "We use the power of the virus, a naturally occurring organism, to transport the DNA into the patient's cells.
The small study is mainly used to test their safety. However, over time, it should indicate if the treatment is working. In this case, a much larger study is started. The team is conducting a study of ten patients at the Oxford Eye Hospital [File photo]
When the virus opens in the retinal cell, it releases the DNA of the gene we have cloned, and the cell begins producing a protein that we believe can modify the disease and corrects it through the complement system caused imbalance of inflammation.
"The idea of this gene therapy is to 'deactivate' the complement system, but at a certain point at the back of the head, so that otherwise the patient would remain unaffected, and we hope that in the future this will slow down the effect progression macular degeneration. "Surgeons hope that the current study shows that they can stop the progression of the disease and maintain the remaining vision.
However, in the future, they hope to be able to test it on patients with early AMD and thus stop the disease before their eyesight even worsens.
Professor MacLaren said, "I hope to see treatment for people with dry AMD in the next few years."