Researchers aim to cure inherited blindness in babies

06 March 2015

GCU researchers are working to treat eye diseases in babies

GCU researchers are working to treat eye diseases in babies

Researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) are working with Yorkhill Children’s Charity to help treat eye diseases which lead to severe visual loss and blindness in babies.

Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis (LCA) is the earliest and most severe form of inherited disorder that affects the retina and causes vision loss, often at the age of just six weeks.

Both parents of the child will be carriers of the defective gene that causes LCA, though they are not necessarily afflicted with the disease themselves.

Researchers have emphasised the need for new drugs to slow the deterioration of the light-sensitive cells in the retina as there is currently no cure for children with LCA.

Recent progress in gene therapy has been shown to restore functional vision, but cannot stop the progressive loss of the light-sensitive cells (photoreceptors) in the retina.

Dr Xinhua Shu, from GCU’s School of Health and Life Sciences, has been awarded £40,000 to research the development of drugs for the treatment of the disorder by decreasing oxidative damage and improving the survival of light-sensitive cells.

The development of such antioxidant drugs, in combination with gene therapy, is hoped to help children with the disease to experience restored visual function in the long term.

Dr Shu works with animal models, in this case zebrafish – a small tropical fish commonly found in aquariums – as they have similar retinas to those found in humans.

Dr Shu’s research work uses the zebrafish as a genetic model to understand cellular, molecular and physiological processes for the treatment of human retinal disorders.

Dr Shu will analyse the protective role of gypenosides in retinal cells and in vivo using a zebrafish model.

The Yorkhill Research Support Scheme, launched in 2014, is a conduit for Yorkhill Children’s Charity to support high quality research with the ultimate aim of improving children’s health.

Professor Faisal Ahmed, chair of the Yorkhill Research Support Scheme, said:  “This is an exciting project on a major health problem for children. Currently, there is no treatment for this eye condition and the funding provided by the Yorkhill Research Support Scheme will pave the way for a significant impact on the lives of babies born with this genetic condition.”

Dr Xinhua Shu’s research interests are in the disease mechanisms of retinal diseases, including diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.