Podcast: Let the light shine—Tackling eye disease with gene therapy

eye

In this episode, supported by the UK Medical Research Council, geneticist Kat Arney and reporter Georgia Mills explore how researchers are letting the light shine in, literally, by uncovering the underlying genetic faults that cause eye diseases and developing game-changing  gene therapies to save sight.

Mills speaks with sight loss charity campaigner and fundraiser Ken Reid about his experiences of living with the genetic eye condition Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP)—a hereditary disease that causes the gradual degeneration of light-sensitive cells in the back of the eye. He first realized that something was wrong with his sight when he was a party-going teenager in the 1970s.

Ken Reid
Sight loss charity campaigner and fundraiser Ken Reid

I always had very poor eyesight and couldn’t understand how people could do things in the dark,” he says. “Most people probably don’t remember what discos in the ’70s were like, but they were just dark. You had this lovely interaction where it was very noisy, it was very dark and there were some flashing lights. I could see nothing and trying to find somebody to dance with was a real torment. I didn’t know how people managed it!

At the MRC Human Genetics Unit in Edinburgh, Chloe Stanton is searching for the gene faults that underpin RP and other hereditary eye diseases, with more than 100 RP genes identified so far. To find out more about what all these genes actually do, her colleague Roly Megaw is growing tiny ‘mini-eyes’ in the lab from reprogrammed stem cells originally derived from skin samples – including one from Reid himself. 

Related article:  Using gene editing to control forest fires? It could be a reality if anti-biotechnology activists don't block it

Finally, Robin Ali at King’s College London is running clinical trials of gene therapy for inherited eye disorders. There’s been impressive progress in recent years, and Ali is hopeful that treatments will come through for people like Reid.

In the 25 years I’ve been working on developing gene therapy for retinal degeneration, we’ve seen huge advances. I think we couldn’t imagine how far we could come. I remember when I first started, we were working out ways to deliver genes to the retina and we were pleased if we saw just one or two cells that had taken up a virus and maybe expressing a gene for a couple of weeks. We are now able to rescue dozens of different animal models highly effectively. It’s just a matter of time until this technology can be applied as effectively to humans.

Full transcript, links and references available online at GeneticsUnzipped.com

Genetics Unzipped is the podcast from the UK Genetics Society, presented by award-winning science communicator and biologist Kat Arney and produced by First Create the Media.  Follow Kat on Twitter @Kat_Arney, Genetics Unzipped @geneticsunzip, and the Genetics Society at @GenSocUK

Listen to Genetics Unzipped on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) Google Play, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts

Outbreak
Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
Talking Biotech
Genetics Unzipped
can you boost your immune system to prevent coronavirus spread x

Video: How to boost your immune system to guard against COVID and other illnesses

Scientists have recently developed ways to measure your immune age. Fortunately, it turns out your immune age can go down ...
mag insects image superjumbo v

Disaster interrupted: Which farming system better preserves insect populations: Organic or conventional?

A three-year run of fragmentary Armageddon-like studies had primed the journalism pumps and settled the media framing about the future ...
dead bee desolate city

Are we facing an ‘Insect Apocalypse’ caused by ‘intensive, industrial’ farming and agricultural chemicals? The media say yes; Science says ‘no’

The media call it the “Insect Apocalypse”. In the past three years, the phrase has become an accepted truth of ...
globalmethanebudget globalcarbonproject cropped x

Infographic: Cows cause climate change? Agriculture scientist says ‘belching bovines’ get too much blame

A recent interview by Caroline Stocks, a UK journalist who writes about food, agriculture and the environment, of air quality ...
organic hillside sweet corn x

Organic v conventional using GMOs: Which is the more sustainable farming?

Many consumers spend more for organic food to avoid genetically modified products in part because they believe that “industrial agriculture” ...
benjamin franklin x

Are most GMO safety studies funded by industry?

The assertion that biotech companies do the research and the government just signs off on it is false ...
gmo corn field x

Do GMO Bt (insect-resistant) crops pose a threat to human health or the environment?

Bt is a bacterium found organically in the soil. It is extremely effective in repelling or killing target insects but ...
favicon

Environmental Working Group: EWG challenges safety of GMOs, food pesticide residues

Known by some as the "Environmental Worrying Group," EWG lobbies for tighter GMO legislation and famously puts out annual "dirty dozen" list of fruits and ...
m hansen

Michael Hansen: Architect of Consumers Union ongoing anti-GMO campaign

Michael K. Hansen (born 1956) is thought by critics to be the prime mover behind the ongoing campaign against agricultural biotechnology at Consumer Reports. He is an ...
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
Optional. Mail on special occasions.
Send this to a friend