A University of Iowa professor’s home from a visit to the nation’s capital where Doctor Greg Hageman on Wednesday told members of Congress about his research on a common cause of blindness. Hageman says U-of-I researchers delved into the genetic factor in macular degeneration.
A large group of researchers, including Hagemen’s, came upon the answers around the same time, but seem to agree this gene’s responsible for 30 to fifty-percent of cases of macular degeneration. Hageman says the disease blinds 3 to 4-million Americans completely, and causes visual impairment in another fifteen-million.
In Iowa, there are about 25-thousand people known to be blinded by the disease. Though the key’s in the genes, he says the damage to eyesight is caused by the body attacking some of its own cells. The gene they’ve found turns off “inflammatory pathways.” He says the gene prevents the immune system from properly shutting down so it damages your cells, and their task now is figuring out how to turn it off appropriately. The answer might lie in cutting-edge gene therapy. One option might to give people the “protective” form of the gene, a therapy he says holds out “tremendous hope.”
Doctor Hageman says they have to find the difference between different kinds of the gene, those that are “protective” and forms that are defective. Then, he says, a treatment for people suffering from the blinding syndrome might be available in ten years, or as little as five years.