Reengineering Life is a series from OneZero about the astonishing ways genetic technology is changing humanity and the world around us.
People with total color blindness see the world in monochrome — black, white, and shades of gray.
The rare disorder also makes people sensitive to light and reduces the sharpness in their vision. There is currently no cure for it — or even for the more common types of color blindness, which affect only certain colors. But in the future, a one-time treatment known as gene therapy could help these people see in technicolor.
In a small trial in Germany, an experimental gene therapy improved the vision of nine people with total color blindness, also known as known as achromatopsia. After receiving the gene therapy, the eight men and one woman in the trial could see some color, as well as more letters on a vision chart.
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Developed by researchers at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and University Hospital Tübingen, the therapy, which involves a genetically engineered virus, is designed to correct a defect in a gene known as CNGA3. Mutations in this gene are responsible for about one-third of all cases of total color blindness.
Gene therapy uses viruses because of their natural ability to get inside cells. The viruses are modified, however, so that they can’t cause infection, and they’re also engineered to carry healthy copies of a gene to compensate for a mutated one. In this case, the scientists in Germany inserted normal copies of the CNGA3 gene into the engineered virus particles. The hope…