Can blindness from birth be cured? Let’s find out. Blindness is one of the top causes of disability all across the globe and affects more than 43 million people worldwide. Multiple studies have found a strong correlation between blindness and mortality rate.
Gene therapy is no longer work in progress but a reality. After multiple successful trials, gene therapy has been approved for curing blindness. Luxturna became the first FDA-approved therapy in 2017, and new companies have made the treatment more accessible ever since
Also, make sure to check out my post on Can A Blind Eye Be Fixed?
Despite blind people receiving more support than ever before, they are still severely disadvantaged when it comes to academic and professional life.
The worst cases of blindness are seen under the condition of complete blindness, where the affected can’t see any light. Also coined as “legal blindness” in most European countries, complete blindness affects more than 1 million in the U.S alone.
Fortunately, because of its severity and life-changing symptoms, it gets incredible scientific attention worldwide.
The Cases of Congenital Blindness – Can Blindness be Cured?
The blindness present since birth is known as congenital blindness and has been proven curable. Multiple studies and human trials have provided consistent positive results showing vision improvement in not only children but adults as well.
However, before this can be discussed in more depth, different types of congenital blindness must be differentiated.
Types of Congenital Blindness
Congenital blindness simply means “inherited” blindness due to family history, infection, or premature birth. However, not all affected individuals suffer total blindness and can have vision impairments with varying severity.
Total blindness is when a person experiences a complete absence of light. In such a case, the affected does not see any shapes, shadows, or colors. This type of blindness is less common and only occurs in about 15 percent of blind individuals.
More than 60 percent of congenital blindness cases are inherited eye diseases. These can include:
Cataracts affect the light-scattering abilities within one or both lenses. This can make the lenses cloudy or blurry, causing vision impairment. It can be cured with cataract surgery, where the unnecessary opacity within the lens is removed to clear up the vision.
This type of glaucoma is caused due to a problem in the trabecular meshwork (an eye tissue critical for the drainage of eye fluid) and the anterior chamber angle (the angle responsible for drainage).
The condition, therefore, causes an abnormal level of intraocular pressure in the eye and can result in blindness. Compared to other types of congenital blindness, glaucoma is not curable or irreversible. However, its progress can be minimized with angle surgery or, in severe cases, with implantation.
Optic Atrophy is a condition that damages the optic nerve responsible for transferring impulses to the brain. It is classified as a progressive vision loss where the optic nerve gradually shrinks over time, making vision worse with time. It affects around 1 in 10,000 babies and can cause complete blindness if not treated in the early stages.
Currently, no surgeries or remedies can treat or reverse the condition. This is because it deteriorates the nerve fibers in the eye, which cannot be artificially grown back or healed.
However, it is important to remember that optic atrophy rarely happens as a primary disease and usually develops due to an underlying disease. For this reason, early diagnosis and consistent eye tests can help prevent the worsening of symptoms.
Retinal Degeneration is also a progressive disease that can cause the gradual death of photoreceptor cells within the eye. These cells are responsible for reflecting light and forming images in the brain.
While it cannot be treated completely, it rarely causes complete blindness. Some of the ways the disease can be managed are through cell therapy or gene augmentation therapy. Multiple studies and trials have found gene therapy to cure vision loss caused by retinal Degeneration after just a single dose.
Gene therapy is no longer work in progress but a reality. After multiple successful trials, gene therapy has been approved for curing blindness. Luxturna became the first FDA-approved therapy in 2017, and new companies have made the treatment more accessible ever since.
The treatment is designed to cure blindness caused due to the mutation of a critical gene responsible for light reflection.
The gene known as RPE65 includes the retinal protein responsible for helping the eye respond to different colors and light. Gene therapy allows blind individuals to receive a healthy version of this gene with just a single dose of injection.
In some cases, just a single dose has proven strong enough to help a blind person maintain full vision for three years. Along with retinal Degeneration, gene therapy can also cure other congenital blindness, including optic neuropathy, glaucoma, and optic atrophy.
However, the treatment still remains widely inaccessible for most people due to the high prices and legal implications in some countries. While most European and western countries have approved at least some type of gene therapy treatment, other countries still lag behind.
How Gene Therapy Works?
Gene therapy uses a viral vector to replace the damaged gene with a functional copy. The eye is one of those body parts where the immune system doesn’t have normal self-defense abilities.
Due to the restricted access of the immune system, the viral vector is successfully able to deliver the critical protein needed to process light and help an individual see again.
How Long Does Gene Therapy Last?
It’s important to remember that gene therapy for blindness is still a relatively new concept and doesn’t offer permanent solutions. Fortunately, the cells within one’s retina are more resilient than any other part of the body and preserve the injected gene for at least three years.
While some companies like Luxturna offer well-known, reliable treatments that can last for up to three years, some companies claim higher sustainability.
Every eye disease should be treated with a high urgency and never ignored. Even curable diseases can progress into irreversible blindness when it comes to vision impairment.
It’s important to aim for early diagnosis, which is the only way to stop a life-changing disease in its tracks. Fortunately, almost all types of blindness have a reliable cure now. However, early prevention and treatment still mean all the difference.