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Discovery of a new retinal gene involved in childhood blindness
Date:3/5/2009

This release is available in French.

Montreal March 2nd, 2009 The team of Dr. Robert Koenekoop which includes Dr. Irma Lopez from the Research Institute of the MUHC at the Montreal Children's Hospital played a crucial role in the international collaboration that led to the discovery of a new gene that causes Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) and retinitis pigmentosa (RP), two devastating forms of childhood blindness.

This finding of this new gene, called SPATA7, is remarkable because it identifies a new retinal metabolic disease pathway that may be crucial for many patients. It also opens a new avenue for a potential genetic therapy. Gene therapy targeting different genes has recently proved successful for the same disease in human subjects. The study will be published on March 5th, 2009 in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

New cell mechanism at play

Researchers have now identified a total of fifteen genes involved in LCA, but SPATA7 is the first gene with a mutation that disrupts the protein transport between two important compartments of the cell: the endoplasmic reticulum and the Golgi apparatus. All proteins in every cell have to pass through this transport pathway; thus SPATA7 plays a major role and its mutation may affect many aspects of vision.

"Until now we were not aware that this cellular mechanism played a role in LCA or any other eye disease. This is a very important step that opens up a number of new research avenues, particularly in our understanding of the specific cellular processes involved in blindness. This finding also increases the number of potential therapeutic targets and therefore the chances of finding a treatment. We are extremely motivated by all of these new possibilities," explained Dr. Koenekoop.

First step towards gene therapy

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Contact: Isabelle Kling
isabelle.kling@muhc.mcgill.ca
514-843-1560
McGill University Health Centre
Source:Eurekalert

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