TCD researchers take ‘significant step’ in finding treatments for blindness

17 Feb 2022

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The research suggests therapies targeting a gene could lead to new treatment options and that benefits could remain over time.

Scientists at Trinity College Dublin believe targeting a specific gene can help treat many forms of genetic blindness.

The study published in the International Journal of Molecular Science claims a gene called SARM1 is a key driver in the damage that ultimately leads to impaired vision and possibly blindness.

Future Human

In the US, around 12m people who are 40 years and older have vision impairment, including 1m who are blind, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Impaired vision and blindness is extremely debilitating for millions of people across the globe, which is one of the main motivations for us to seek to better understand the genetic causes and potentially develop life-changing therapies,” said Laura Finnegan, first author of the paper.

Finnegan said that in response to injury, the SARM1 gene contributes to a process that degenerates specialised cells and their axons in the eye.

“When this happens it essentially means that the optic nerve can no longer deliver signals from the eye to the brain,” Finnegan added.

The team’s research on mice suggests that therapies targeting the suppression of this gene could lead to new options for conditions that don’t have effective treatment options available.

Senior author on the paper Prof Jane Farrar said: “Another important finding was that visual function was still preserved when reassessed four months after SARM1 was deleted, indicating that the benefits can remain over time.

“This raises hopes that a targeted therapy delivered early enough may offer people diagnosed with an ocular neuropathy long-lasting preservation of sight.”

Farrar noted that there is still “a way to go” before therapies and treatments are available, but added that this work is “a significant step”.

The study was a collaboration project between Prof Farrar’s lab in the School of Genetics and Microbiology and Prof Andrew Bowie’s lab in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology, in the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute.

The research was funded by the Irish Research Council, Science Foundation Ireland, the Health Research Board of Ireland and Fighting Blindness Ireland.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com