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Frans W. Cornelissen, Eli Brenner; Is adding a new class of cones to the retina sufficient to cure color-blindness?. Journal of Vision 2015;15(13):22. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/15.13.22.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
New genetic methods have made it possible to substitute cone pigments in the retinas of adult nonhuman primates. Doing so influences the animals' visual abilities, demonstrating that the gene therapy was effective. However, we argue that no studies conducted so far have unambiguously demonstrated that the experimental animals have also acquired the ability to make new color distinctions. Simply put, it has been shown that animals that underwent the gene treatment can now—in addition to finding a red ball on a grayish background—find a green ball on a grayish background. However, it has not been shown that the animals can distinguish a red ball from a green one. For most people, that essential ability would be the primary reason for wanting to undergo a treatment for color-blindness in the first place, for instance, because their color-blindness currently prevents them from pursuing a career as a pilot or firefighter. It is important to point out such possible limitations of gene therapy for color-blindness to avoid unwarranted expectations in both clinicians and patients. To explain the origin of our concerns, we simulate how replacing the pigment of some cones is expected to influence the outcomes on the behavioral test used so far. The simulations show that this test does not provide conclusive evidence that the animals acquired the ability to make new chromatic distinctions. In our view, it is therefore premature to claim that human color-blindness can be cured through gene therapy. We propose a test that would provide more conclusive evidence of fundamentally altered color vision after gene therapy.
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