Color-blindness Cured by Gene Injection in Monkeys

Christine Dell'Amore
National Geographic News
September 16, 2009

A simple injection of cells has cured monkeys of color-blindness—giving a green light to future research into improving human vision with gene therapy, a new study says.

Calling the procedure his gene therapy "dream," researcher Jay Neitz said that "ultimately this could be a tool that could cure all sorts of eye diseases."

It's too early to say that the technique can help color-blind people who can't see red or green, but study co-author Neitz is confident.

"If we did this exact same thing to a human being today, I believe we would have cured their color vision," said Neitz, an ophthalmologist and professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.

(Related: "Mice Get 'Human' Vision in Gene Experiment.")

Color-blindness Can Be "Heartbreaking"

The most common genetic disorder in humans, color-blindness affects about 3.5 million people in the United States, more than 13 million in China, and about 16 million in India, the study authors say.

Most color-blind people are men, and most function fine.

But some are "heartbroken" that they can't enter careers that require full-color vision, such as geology and aviation, Neitz said—not to mention that the color-blind can't fully enjoy fall colors and sunsets, or even tell if they're getting sunburned, he added.

Color-blind Monkey Miracle Cure?

Some squirrel monkeys also have a form of color-blindness identical to that of humans: Their eyes lack a pigment gene that allows them to see reds and greens.

To find out if gene therapy could cure color-blindness, Neitz and colleagues trained several of the monkeys—some color-blind, some not—in a lab.

Continued on Next Page >>


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