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

e discovery that gives great hope to LCA patients and their families, that gene based therapies can and will be developed to restore sight," said Sharon Colle, President and CEO of The Foundation Fighting Blindness, the leading private charity for vision research. "We are proud to fund such important discoveries involving prominent Canadian researchers and institutions."

A careful assessment of patients with some specific genetic types of LCA also demonstrated that their retinal cells (specifically the rod and cone photoreceptors), although not functional for vision, were still present and in relatively good condition. This critical observation will allow researchers to continue on the path towards gene therapies. Therapies targeting different genes for the same disease have already shown success in the United Kingdom and in the US, meaning that LCA patients can now enjoy hope for the future.

A new and innovative technology

SPATA7 was identified using an innovative technology developed in the different laboratories involved in this international collaboration. "We started this protocol about two years ago, and it has already helped us to identify four new genes associated with LCA and RP before we discovered SPATA7," explained Dr Koenekoop.

The technique is based on DNA-chips and involves three steps: first the genetic material of the patient is screened to find mutations in 14 specific LCA and RP genes. The LCA and RP patients that are negative for this detailed screen are then subjected to a second DNA chip, this one to identify significant stretches of homozygosity in SNP markers. SNPs are single nucleotide repeats, which are natural variations in the human genome. These homozygous regions may contain new genes and are carefully probed based on functional information and then subjected to sequencing. "This method is indeed both very powerful and very promising for the future," said Dr. Koenekoop.


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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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