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Prof James Bainbridge given top award for gene therapy breakthrough

Moorfields Private consultant helped develop the world’s first gene therapy

4 September 2018
Professor James Bainbridge

Professor James Bainbridge, consultant eye surgeon at Moorfields Private, has been awarded the 2018 Champalimaud Vision Award – the largest prize of its type that recognises major scientific breakthroughs in eye care.

Professor Bainbridge receives the award for his work in developing a gene therapy to treat Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA), a genetic cause of childhood blindness. The €1 million prize will be shared with three teams from around the world for their contribution to the research which opens the way to revolutionary new treatments for genetic conditions.

Inherited retinal diseases are one of the leading causes of blindness in working age adults and the second leading cause of blindness in children in Europe, the US and much of Asia. This group of diseases is caused by changes in genes important in the retina, the light sensing tissue at the back of the eye.

Professor Bainbridge and his colleague Professor Robin Ali from Moorfields Eye Hospital and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology performed the world’s first gene therapy treatment in 2012 on a patient with LCA. They injected genes containing cells that normally detect light into the back of a patient’s eye. In patients with LCA these light detecting cells do not work, preventing them from seeing properly. The replacement genes help to heal the dying cells enabling the retina to detect light and eventually improve sight.

Professor Bainbridge said: “We are delighted to be among the recipients of the prestigious 2018 Champalimaud Vision Award for our work in gene therapy. Genetic medicine can change lives for the better and offers hope to people with sight-threatening conditions. We will continue to work to address their needs by optimising and expanding gene therapy techniques.”

Alfred Sommer, Chairman of the Champalimaud Vision Award said: “This year’s Champalimaud laureates are recognised for their development of the many interrelated techniques necessary for human gene therapy, and for applying these to successfully treat Leber’s Amaurosis, which otherwise results in blindness at an early age. This is the first, and still only example of successful gene therapy in humans that corrects an inherited genetic defect and is therefore a milestone in medical therapeutics.”

Moorfields Private is the private division of the world-renowned Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

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