Brussels, 04 Nov 2004
A team of researchers has discovered a new blindness gene, which could save the sight of thousands.
The research team from Leeds University hopes that its discovery will lead to the early diagnosis of retinal disease that tends to affect premature babies and older people.
'The effects of blindness can be devastating,' explained Carmel Toomes of the Leeds vision research group. 'It is very frightening to imagine how your life would change if you were to lose your sight, but for many this is a reality. By the time we retire, one in 50 of us will have a significant defect of vision and after retirement the incidence rises sharply,' she added.
According to Dr Toomes, the discovery will enable an early diagnosis of diseases that affect the light-sensitive part of the eye. This causes the majority of cases of blindness and visual disability in the UK. In most cases, retinal disease is incurable and once vision loss has occurred, it is almost impossible to restore sight. However, an early diagnosis would prevent vision loss in the first place.
Dr Toomes and her team are investigating rare inherited forms of retinal disease 'in order to understand the more common forms of blindness affected by the growth of abnormal blood vessels in diabetic retinopathy and ageing-macular dystrophy - the leading causes of blindness in the western world,' explained the vision research group in a statement.
The research should lead to the development of new treatments for these conditions. Furthermore, adds the vision research group, 'by improving our understanding of vascular development, the breakthrough could also shed light on other diseases including tumour formation and arthritis.'