There are a number of different eye diseases that have been found to be hereditary, from common visual problems to more serious diseases such as glaucoma. Understanding the genetic factors involved in these types of diseases are key for parents when monitoring their child’s eyesight as early diagnosis could lead to better prevention.
In infants, 60 per cent of blindness cases are caused by inherited eye diseases, including eye malformations, optic atrophy, retinal degeneration, and glaucoma. And, unlike conditions such as short-sightedness, which can often be treated further down the line with things such as laser eye surgery, these types of diseases need identifying as quickly as possible. You can learn more about these treatments here.
Age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma are the two leading causes of blindness in adults and have been identified as being hereditary in a high proportion of cases. The genes involved in macular degeneration are currently being discovered by researchers while several genes for glaucoma have already been recorded. Major progress has already been made towards the treatment of degenerative disease of the retina (retinitis pigmentosa) as several of the genes involved in this disease (which can lead to vision loss and eventually blindness) have also been identified by researchers.
Genetics in Common Visual Problems
With new evidence, it has been determined that many visual problems that occur in eyes that are deemed ‘healthy’ can be linked to genetics. These include astigmatism, hyperopia (long-sightedness) myopia (short-sightedness), amblyopia (a lazy eye) and strabismus (cross-eyes).
For these types of problems, early diagnosis is key, which is why parents are urged to take their children for eye tests. Several problems can be identified in children as young as four and this early diagnosis helps to ensure the child receives the right treatment to prevent it from getting worse. Parents with common and serious eye problems should be particularly cautious of their child’s eye health, being vigilant for any early warning signs.
Eliminating Eye Disease through Genetic Manipulation
As scientists continue to battle to find ways to remove the risk of children developing the same diseases as their parents, several breakthroughs have been made with genetic manipulation. By editing the genes that cause these hereditary genes they could eliminate the chance of this being passed onto children, and this includes certain forms of genetic blindness.
In an essay for the New England Journal of Medicine, Eric. S. Lander (professor at Harvard Medical School) suggested that progressive blindness caused by an inherited gene could be prevented by inactivating this specific gene in the eye’s retinal cells. This technique was tested in a recent experiment on rats that had been bred to develop . They were then treated to prevent this form of blindness from being passed onto their offspring.
Due to the complications involved in changing genetics, scientists are approaching these types of treatments with caution. However, Lander does suggest that with the ongoing advancements in technology, these types of hereditary diseases could be stopped in their tracks in the future.