Albertan Mark Huyser-Wierenga will undergo experimental gene therapy to try to stop his vision loss.
Photo Credit: Laughing Dog Photography

Gene therapy may stop genetic eye disease


A rare genetic eye disease may eventually be treated by inserting a normal gene into the eye and Canadian researchers have received $5 million to test the treatment. Choroideremia affects mostly men, predominantly those of Irish descent and causes a gradual loss of vision that eventually leads to blindness. The condition affects one in 50,000 individuals around the world.

A breakthrough in using gene therapy for another eye disorder occurred five years ago and since then scientists have been researching other applications. “This really hit ophthalmology and medical science with a great crescendo of activity,” said Ian MacDonald, leader of the Alberta Ocular Gene Therapy Team based at the University of Alberta in western Canada.  He hopes to develop the expertise in ocular gene therapy to be able to treat Canadian patients.

The procedure involves taking blood from a person with normal eyes and isolating the gene responsible for causing Choroideremia in others.  It is then encased in a virus and inserted into the affected patient. The eye then copies the normal gene and progression of the disease is hopefully stopped and vision improves.

d will be part of the ocular gene therapy trial. © Photo by Laughing Dog Photography

 Prosecutor eager to stop vision loss

Mark Huyser-Wierenga started having vision problems when he was fifteen years old. He is a crown prosecutor in the province of Alberta and he can no longer ride his bicycle or live the active life he used to. He inherited the genetic eye disease from his mother. He will be one of the first to receive the gene therapy in this phase one of clinical trials.

Patients will be carefully followed for a few years to see how safe and effective the treatment is. More testing will be needed before the therapy is widely available to help those with this genetic eye disease.

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