Unravelling the genetics of inherited retinal dystrophies: Past, present and future
The identification of the genes underlying monogenic diseases has been of interest to clinicians and scientists for many years. Using inherited retinal dystrophies as an example of monogenic disease we describe the history of molecular genetic techniques that have been pivotal in the discovery of disease causing genes. The methods that were developed in the 1970's and 80's are still in use today but have been refined and improved. These techniques enabled the concept of the Human Genome Project to be envisaged and ultimately realised. When the successful conclusion of the project was announced in 2003 many new tools and, as importantly, many collaborations had been developed that facilitated a rapid identification of disease genes. In the post-human genome project era advances in computing power and the clever use of the properties of DNA replication has allowed the development of next-generation sequencing technologies. These methods have revolutionised the identification of disease genes because for the first time there is no need to define the position of the gene in the genome. The use of next generation sequencing in a diagnostic setting has allowed many more patients with an inherited retinal dystrophy to obtain a molecular diagnosis for their disease. The identification of novel genes that have a role in the development or maintenance of retinal function is opening up avenues of research which will lead to the development of new pharmacological and gene therapy approaches. Neither of which can be used unless the defective gene and protein is known. The continued development of sequencing technologies also holds great promise for the advent of truly personalised medicine.