Closing In on a Cure for Vision Loss

Already there are 4.2 million Americans who are blind or visually impaired, and that number is going to increase by 70% over the coming decades as our population ages. The most common type of age related vision loss is macular degeneration, and scientists are close to a possible cure.

Closing In on a Cure for Vision Loss

Scientists believe they may be on the cusp of developing a possible cure for some types of blindness.

Several potential fixes—including gene therapy, stem-cell therapy and a modified version of vitamin A—are currently being tested in people with a rare eye disorder called Stargardt disease.

The work, if it pans out, could pave the way to treat the most common type of vision loss known as age-related macular degeneration, scientists say. An estimated 4.2 million Americans are blind or visually impaired, a number that is expected to increase 70% in the next two decades as the population ages.

“It’s a fundamental breakthrough,” Paul Sieving, director of the National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, says about the latest research. “These opportunities didn’t exist 10 years ago,” he says.

It isn’t clear whether the experimental therapies will work. The clinical testing is still at an early stage. And many prospective treatments that show promise in animal trials later fail when studied in people.

The latest developments aimed at halting, or even reversing, vision loss follow decades of research into what causes people to lose their sight. Blindness can have many origins. Scientists have identified nearly 200 genes that play a role in vision loss due to degeneration of the retina, which is located at the back of the eye and contains millions of light-sensitive cells known as rods and cones.

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