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Experimental gene therapy used to halt most common cause of blindness in older people


A woman from Oxford in the UK has become the first person in the world to have gene therapy in an attempt to halt the most common type of blindness in the West. Janet Osborne, aged 80, had a synthetic gene injected into the back of her eye in a bid to prevent more of her cells from dying. It is thought that Mrs Osborne is the first person to receive such treatment to combat age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which affects around 600,000 people in the UK alone. Carried out under local anaesthetic, the procedure was carried out at Oxford Eye Hospital by Robert MacLaren, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Oxford. Mrs Osborne is the first person of a 10-patient trial to receive the treatment, which is being conducted to check the safety of the procedure. All the trial participants have already lost some of their vision. If the trial proves successful, the aim going forward would be to use the gene therapy to halt AMD in its tracks before a person’s sight is impacted. Mrs Osborne and the rest of the trial participants will have their vision monitored to determine the effectiveness of the therapy. Speaking to the BBC, Mrs Osborne said: “I find it difficult to recognise faces with my left eye because my central vision is blurred - and if this treatment could stop that getting worse, it would be amazing.”

Diabetes is actually five diseases, not two


Diabetes has long been split into two types: type 1 and type 2. But new research suggests it could actually be five different diseases and treatment could be tailored to tackle each form. Researchers in Sweden and Finland say the more complicated diabetes picture they’ve uncovered could lead to a new era of personalised medicine being ushered in. Affecting approximately one in 11 people around the world, diabetes doesn’t just play havoc with blood sugar levels, but also increases the risk of stroke, blindness, heart attack, kidney failure and limb amputation. Type 1 diabetes, which affects around 10% of sufferers in the UK, is a disease of the immune system that attacks the body’s insulin factories, leading to there being a shortage of the hormone to control blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is associated with poor lifestyle choices and obesity, which affect the way in which insulin works. For the study, the researchers analysed blood samples from 14,775 patients. They found that people could be separated into five distinct diabetes clusters. Talking to the BBC, Prof Leif Groop, one of the researchers, said: "This is extremely important, we're taking a real step towards precision medicine. "In the ideal scenario, this is applied at diagnosis and we target treatment better."

Scientists Use Stem Cells to Successfully Cure Cataracts


Cataracts account for more than half of all cases of blindness across the world. But now scientists have shown that a person's own stem cells can be used to regrow a 'living lens' in their eye. Published in the journal Nature, the research has been described as 'remarkable' by experts and is being lauded as one of the finest achievements in regenerative medicine. Surgeons successfully reversed blindness in 12 children born with congenital cataracts by activating stem cells in the eye to grow a new lens, negating the need for an implanted one. Within just three months, a clear, cataract-free lens had developed in all of the patients' eyes. "The success of this work represents a new approach in how new human tissue or organ can be regenerated and human disease can be treated, and may have a broad impact on regenerative therapies by harnessing the regenerative power of our own body," said Dr Kang Zhang, one of the researchers at UC San Diego School of Medicine. Dr Dusko Ilic, a reader in Stem Cell Science at King's College London, said: "This is one of the finest achievements in the field of regenerative medicine until now." The hope now is that the technique can be used to develop a way of treating older patients who are suffering with poor sight because of age-related cataracts. Cataract surgery is the most common procedure carried out in England, with around 300,000 patients operated on every single year.

Can Cataract Removal Change Your Life?


Cataract is the clouding of the crystalline lens within the eye. Whilst this is a very common condition, especially as people start to age, it can have a dramatic impact on a person’s life. The effects of cataracts is that light cannot pass through the blurred part of the lens and so the person is left with only patches of vision. The blurred patches increase in size over time and so the field of vision becomes drastically reduced if left.  When will cataracts be removed? If cataracts are mild then there may be no need to remove them. Mild cataracts can be corrected by strong glasses and brighter reading conditions, however, it is always advisable that professional advice is sought as cataracts can cause blindness if left untreated.  If cataracts start to affect daily life then they will usually be removed by a relatively low-risk procedure.   What does cataract surgery involve? If cataracts are so severe that surgery is required the affected lens will be removed and replaced with an artificial lens called an intraocular lens (IOL). Various lenses are available to suit your vision and the best for the patient will be used. As with any surgery there are risks, however, in the majority of cases following the operation the patient will no longer have cloudy patches on their eyes and their vision will be restored.  Surgeons in France are exceptionally well skilled and so if you are contemplating cataract surgery there is no better place to regain your sight than the beautiful country France. Photo Credit: © Alila Medical Images -