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History teacher's revolutionary gene therapy

St John’s history teacher Joe Pepper featured on BBC Six O'clock news yesterday, discussing details of the revolutionary gene therapy treatment that he has received.

Joe was diagnosed at the age of nine with a rare inherited disorder called choroideremia that meant the light detecting cells in the back of his eyes were slowly dying due to a faulty gene. Joe’s vision was deteriorating and it could have eventually led to blindness.

He is taking part in a clinical study led by British scientists and underwent surgery to inject working copies of the faulty gene into his retina. Joe is the youngest patient to have been treated, and the success of the surgery has given hope that the treatment is viable and could be used more widely on younger patients. Not only does the treatment appear to have halted the deterioration in Joe’s vision, but it has improved his current vision significantly. He was moved to tears when he realised he could read four lines further on the eye chart than before surgery.

Joe was forced to give up cricket at 16 but treatment has meant he has been able to return to the game he loves, and he is now enjoying coaching pupils at St John’s.

It is hoped that since the treatment corrects the DNA in the cells that the process only has to be carried out once. The success of this gene therapy has gained widespread news coverage in the national press since it gives hope that similar treatments could be developed for more common conditions affecting eyesight such as age-related macular degeneration.

BBC Science correspondent Pallab Ghosh came to the school to interview Joe last week, when he was filmed in the School's cricket nets and also teaching in the classroom. He has also been interviewed on BBC Breakfast this morning where he paid a glowing tribute to Professor Robert MacLaren of Oxford University, the eye surgeon leading the trial.

Joe commented: "Seeing four lines more on the vision chart than I could before is something that you cannot put words to. The opportunity now is that more and more people are going to have the chance to have their vision saved. That’s what’s really exciting."

Published on 29/04/2016

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