Italian Achromatopsia Association Increases Global Awareness of Achromatopsia, a Rare Genetic Eye Disease, With an Expedition to Pingelap, the Island of the Color Blind

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TRENTO, Italy, Aug. 14, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Italian Achromatopsia Association (IAA) today announced that it is organizing a trip to Pingelap, a remote Micronesian atoll in the South Pacific, also known as the “Island of the Color Blind” While the incidence of achromatopsia, a rare inherited retinal disease (IRD), in the general population is 1 in every 30,000 individuals, the condition is found in between 10 and 30 percent of Pingelap’s population. Achromatopsia, for which there is no cure, causes extreme light sensitivity resulting in daytime blindness, poor visual acuity and a complete loss of color discrimination. 

The trip was made possible in part by a number of sponsors, including Applied Genetic Technologies Corporation (Nasdaq:AGTC), a biotechnology company that is committed to developing transformational genetic therapies for patients suffering from rare diseases, including achromatopsia.

“Our team is incredibly excited to embark on this journey to enhance global understanding of achromatopsia and the differences between this condition and the more common forms of color blindness,” said Elisabetta Luchetta, President of the IAA. “We are so pleased to have AGTC as a sponsor of this initiative, which aims to increase awareness about the challenges of living with achromatopsia and enable the global community to understand the impact this inherited condition has on the daily lives of achromats.“

Twenty-five years ago, Oliver Sacks, MD, the neurologist and author, embarked on a journey to Pingelap to study the island’s culture and the way the Pingelapese have adapted to accommodate this genetic eye condition, which, while rare in most populations, is common within their community. Sacks documented the trip in his 1996 book and in a BBC film of the same name. Inspired by his trip, the IAA will develop a documentary about Pingelap to provide a unique perspective that compares and contrasts the lives of people with achromatopsia who experience their disease as a rare condition and those on the island, who experience it in a more communal context.

“While there are ways to manage the condition, there is still a significant need to develop more advanced treatment options to improve the lives of patients,” said Dr. Irene Maumenee, Director of Ophthalmic Genetics at Columbia, and one of the original researchers to travel to Pingelap and initiate a long-term analysis of achromatopsia. “Gene therapy has the potential to emerge as an innovative and game-changing treatment for people with achromatopsia and other rare IRDs. We hope that some of the insights gathered on this trip can be translated into meaningful clinical outcomes for people with rare IRDs across the globe.”

Achromatopsia is an inherited retinal condition caused by mutations in one of several genes. The two most commonly affected are the CNGB3 and CNGA3 genes. Over 200 years ago, Pingelap was devastated by a typhoon which spared only a few inhabitants of the island. Some of those who lived are believed to have carried a recessive mutation in the CNGB3 gene. This created a genetic “founder effect” as the increased prevalence of mutation within the tiny population resulted in a higher rate of achromatopic individuals.

“We are thrilled to support the IAA and hope that what they learn from the expedition will help illuminate the unique challenges of achromatopsia,” said Kate Edgar, Executive Director of the Oliver Sacks Foundation. “No one is better equipped to do that than people who live with the condition themselves, including the members of the IAA. Dr. Sacks would have been intrigued and delighted to know that his book has inspired this new exploration.”

Sponsors of this trip include the following:

Dr. Sacks, referred to by as “the poet laureate of medicine,” was a physician, best-selling author, and professor of neurology. He is best known for his collections of neurological case histories, including  , and. , his book about a group of patients who had survived the great encephalitis lethargica epidemic of the early twentieth century, inspired the 1990 Academy Award-nominated feature film starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.

Stefania PesaventoItalian Achromatopsia Association +34 682 667 666   

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Globe Newswire: 12:30 GMT Wednesday 14th August 2019

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