Science news is an endless drumbeat of “on the verge” when it comes to gene therapy. It’s almost become background noise by now. In and of itself, the potential applications are as amazing as the promise that we’re getting closer every day. AIDS, MS, blindness, cancer … story after story talks about promising research, successful small-scale trials, proofs of concept in treating mice.
But then, back in September (2021, for anyone who left this in their inbox way too long or is reading the archive on the blog), researchers from the Casey Eye Institute at the Oregon Health & Science University actually restored partial sight to several legally blind patients using gene therapy.
While none was totally blind, they all suffered from a genetic condition that caused severe impairment. After the treatment, patients were able to see shapes and colors, allowing such simple visual activities as finding objects dropped on the floor, navigating doorways, and enjoying sunsets.
While just a single example, it’s clear that we are at the beginning of a voyage.
Currently, gene therapy is experimental in pretty much all arenas. I’m not aware of any healthcare providers who offer it as a legitimate service. The field is still the providence of researchers, clinical trials, and science fiction writers.
While “soon” is almost a cliche when it comes to curing diseases, someday that promised delivery will arrive on our doorstep. It may be packaged in a plain cardboard box, and it may have been so long in coming that we don’t remember ordering it. But when that box opens, we’ll never want it shut again.