New drug improves vision in patients with inherited blindness

A Newcastle University study has found that an experimental drug improves the vision and perception of colour in patients with Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), an inherited blindness.

In nine patients out of 36 patients taking the drug, idebenone, vision improved to the extent that patients were able to read at least one row of letters on the chart.

Inherited from the mother, and mainly affecting men, LHON is caused by damage to the mitochondria in the eyes – the “batteries” that power their cells.

“This is the first proven treatment for a mitochondrial disorder,” said Professor Patrick Chinnery, a Wellcome Trust Senior Fellow in Clinical Science at Newcastle University.

“We have seen patients who couldn’t even see an eye chart on the wall go on to read the first line down – and some even attempted the second line.
For these patients, it can mean a vast improvement in their quality of life,” he stated.

The greatest improvement was seen in patients who had deteriorated in one eye more than the other.

“We saw most progress in people who had better vision in one eye than the other – this tends to indicate that they are at an earlier stage of the condition,” explained Prof. Chinnery.

“While we know that their vision is not what it once was, we also know that this treatment can dramatically improve their lives – some were able to move around more easily or even see family photos again,” he added.

The study was published by Oxford University Press in the journal Brain.

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