Ocular diseases result from a multitude of different causes. For example, they can be commonly induced by injury, infections, complications from other diseases, and by the aging process. However, of late, it’s becoming increasingly clear the extent to which genetic factors can also play a key role in the appearance of numerous eye diseases. Indeed, nearly 500 genes have been identified that contribute to the development of hereditary eye diseases.
Altogether there are more than 350 different types of hereditary eye disease covering a wide spectrum of varied complaints. Albinism, corneal dystrophy, and retinoblastoma are among this number.
Inherited eye diseases have the potential to cause significant problems. For example, with respect to infant blindness, 60% of cases are attributable to a form of genetically inherited eye disease. Prevalent causes of child blindness, which have a genetic basis, include congenital cataracts, retinal degeneration, and optic atrophy. Likewise, there’s also a strong genetic component implicated in adult blindness. In this regard, glaucoma and macular degeneration, which are among the principal causes of adult blindness, are known to be inherited in a large proportion of cases.
Some of the most everyday vision problems, including astigmatism, farsightedness, and nearsightedness, have also been shown to be influenced by genetic factors. Moreover, such a trend is echoed among strabismus patients, of whom 40% have a family history of the condition. In all such examples, however, it should be noted that a genetic predisposition to developing the condition in question is inherited rather than the condition itself.
The increased recognition of the role genetic factors play in eye disease has coincided with a marked upturn in efforts to develop gene-based therapies. In this regard, significant progress has already been made in mapping a number of the genes for glaucoma. Likewise, researchers have also begun to successfully identify the genes for macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.
The overarching significance of the scientific work currently being conducted is that many hereditary eye diseases, which were previously considered incurable, can now be treated using increasingly sophisticated forms of gene therapy.