One of the leading causes of blindness may be able to be reversed with some genetic engineering. Two Earlham College graduates were instrumental in the groundbreaking glaucoma research.
Earlham graduates Kate Korobkina and Emma Hoffmann joined Harvard researchers in an effort to restore age-related vision loss in mice. The animals had glaucoma, a condition that damages a patient's optic nerve and gets worse over time.
Their research is published in the journal Nature and details it may be possible to reprogram nerve cells of the eye.
How did they know it worked in mice? "There's a computer screen with moving stripes and it's the same as humans when they have a reflex when a train passes by," Korobkina says. "Your eyes move, so the animals are able to track those stripes."
They used a virus vector to deliver the treatment which reprogrammed the cells. A virus vector is used to deliver genetic material.
"For their work, the team used an adeno-associated virus (AAV) as a vehicle to deliver into the retinas of mice three youth-restoring genes - Sox2 and Klf4 - that are normally switched on during embryonic development. The three genes, together with a fourth one, which was not used in this work, are collectively known as Yamanaka factors."
"Based on our data, we saw it was practically brought up to the baseline before damage had been induced with glaucoma," Hoffmann says. "We treated and could see their scores on the visual acuity test were basically up to their baseline before the damage had occurred."
"Our study demonstrates that it's possible to safely reverse the age of complex tissues such as the retina and restore its youthful biological function," said senior author David Sinclair, professor of genetics in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School, co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research at HMS and an expert on aging.
This genetic engineering may also be able to treat macular degeneration and medical therapeutics for diseases at large in the body.
The researchers say the tests need to be repeated in different animal models. It's unclear when the glaucoma treatment will be ready for humans.