John Flannery photo

Research Expertise and Interest

neurobiology, optometry, vision science, cell and molecular biology of the retina in normal and diseased states

Research Description

John Flannery is a the School of Optometry and the Helen Willis Neuroscience Institute.  The Flannery Laboratory has studied gene therapy for blinding, inherited diseases of the retina for the past 20 years. They have developed animal models of several inherited human blinding diseases, including retinitis pigmentosa, Usher syndrome, and age-related macular degeneration. They have shown that they can protect photoreceptors from injury and cell death in these models by injecting adeno-associated virus or lentivirus vectors into the eye. In these experiments, they have had success in ameliorating photoreceptor cell death with a number of different neurotrophic agents, as well as ribozymes to knockdown the mutant transcripts in dominant disease. The overall goal of their research effort is to prevent or delay the course of blindness in patients. While results in the rodent models show they can protect rat photoreceptors from injury and death, these treatments are not useful for patients in later stages of retinal disease in which the photoreceptor cells have been lost.

In the News

With single gene insertion, blind mice regain sight

University of California, Berkeley, scientists inserted a gene for a green-light receptor into the eyes of blind mice and, a month later, they were navigating around obstacles as easily as mice with no vision problems. The researchers say that, within as little as three years, the gene therapy — delivered via an inactivated virus — could be tried in humans who’ve lost sight because of retinal degeneration, ideally giving them enough vision to move around and potentially restoring their ability to read or watch video.

New therapy holds promise for restoring vision

A new genetic therapy developed by UC Berkeley scientists has not only helped blind mice regain light sensitivity sufficient to distinguish flashing from non-flashing lights, but also restored light response to the retinas of dogs, setting the stage for future clinical trials of the therapy in humans. The therapy involves inserting photoswitches into retinal cells that are normally ‘blind.’

Researchers develop easy and effective therapy to restore sight

Researchers at UC Berkeley have developed an easier and more effective method for inserting genes into eye cells that could greatly expand gene therapy to help restore sight to patients with blinding diseases ranging from inherited defects like retinitis pigmentosa to degenerative illnesses of old age, such as macular degeneration.

Featured in the Media

Please note: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of UC Berkeley.
March 19, 2019
Juan Carlos Guerrero
Berkeley scientists have made a major breakthrough in the quest to cure blindness, restoring sight in mice with a relatively simple gene therapy treatment. With just one injection of a gene for a green-light receptor, the mice were navigating their environment with the same ease as sighted mice within a month. "We are trying to add a new function with gene therapy to another cell. This isn't trying to keep the photo receptors cells from dying, it is trying to make other cells light sensitive to take their place," says optometry and neurobiology professor John Flannery, one of the study's co-authors. The findings offer hope to roughly 170 million people around the world with age-related macular degeneration, as well as people suffering other types of blindness. The team hopes to begin human trials in the next three years. Link to video. For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News. Stories on this topic have appeared in dozens of sources, including Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News, Medgadget, and
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