Researchers Use Non-Viral Gene Therapy to Prevent Retinal Degeneration

August 20, 2010

Tufts University School of Medicine recently announced a study demonstrating that non-viral gene therapy can delay the onset of some forms of eye disease and preserve vision. The team developed nanoparticles to deliver therapeutic genes to the retina and found that treated mice temporarily retained more eyesight than controls. The study, published online in advance of print inĀ Molecular Therapy, brings researchers closer to a non-viral gene therapy treatment for degenerative eye disorders.

The most common approach to gene therapy involves using a virus to deliver DNA to cells. While viruses are very efficient carriers, they can prompt immune responses that may lead to inflammation, cancer, or even death. Non-viral methods offer a safer alternative, but until now, efficiency has been a significant barrier.

In a model simulating the progression of human retinal degeneration, the researchers treated mice with nanoparticles carrying a gene for GDNF (Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), a protein known to protect the photoreceptor cells in the eye. Retinas treated with the GDNF-carrying nanoparticles showed significantly less photoreceptor cell death than controls. Preservation of these cells resulted in significantly better eyesight in the treatment group seven days after treatment, compared to controls.

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