Those who were once blind may someday see, thanks to decades of research into what causes certain types of blindness. Scientists have developed several types of experimental treatments, including gene therapy, which could help prevent the rare eye disorder known as Stargardt disease, one of many vision problems that results from the degeneration of the retina. If that happens, it could open up pathways to treatment for age-related macular degeneration, the most common kind of vision loss, reports the Wall Street Journal. The ailment is expected to become even more common as baby boomers age.
Researchers are focusing on Stargardt disease, which affects 30,000 Americans, because it is linked to just one of nearly 200 genes that can cause vision loss. The illness is caused by an inability to process vitamin A, which causes retinal cells to die off. Dr. Ilyas Washington at Columbia University came up with a way to target the molecule that causes the issue, and developed a "rejiggered vitamin A" that proved successful in treating animals with the Stargardt gene. Don't count it as a catchall cure just yet, though. Clinical trials are still in the early stages, and often animal trials don't translate well to human subjects. Read the Journal's full story here. (Read more vision stories.)