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Scientists at the University of Washington, in Seattle, and the University of Florida restored normal vision to two colour-blind monkeys. The technique could prove to be a safe and effective cure for colour blindness and other visual disorders related to the cones in the retina.
“Although colour blindness is only moderately life-altering, we have shown we can cure a cone disease in a primate and that it can be done very safely,” said Professor William Hauswirth, an ophthalmic molecular geneticist at the University of Florida. “That is extremely encouraging for the development of therapies for human cone diseases that really are blinding.”
Normal colour vision requires three types of cone in the retina, sensitive to light in the blue, green, and red parts of the spectrum.
The success of the treatment in adult animals demonstrated that the brain is able to rewire itself to take advantage of new receptors even in adulthood. The virus used to deliver the L optin gene, called adeno-associated virus, is not known to cause disease in humans. Two years on from the study, the monkeys have shown no adverse effects from the treatment.