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Meet the First Patient to Test Moran's Gene Therapy for AMD in Utah

AMD patient
Kristine Marcroft is the first Utah patient to test a new gene therapy for AMD developed at the Moran Eye Center.

Kristine Marcroft has so many good memories of times with her dad.

She recalls how they wrangled sheep on their ranch in central Utah, found the best fishing spots, and toured scenic back roads. Her dad, Kristine says, was a voracious reader who taught her to pursue knowledge, to be her own person, and most of all to enjoy life.

It was difficult to see him lose his eyesight in his golden years. Marcroft watched as her father and uncle, a physician, were blinded by the same disease: age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Then, at the age of 60, Marcroft began her own struggle with AMD as it began to take away her central vision. She knew it was time to retire from a longtime career working at the Salt Lake County Jail when she couldn’t see documents clearly, even using a magnifying glass.

When Marcroft heard patients were needed to test a new gene therapy for AMD developed at the John A. Moran Eye Center’s Sharon Eccles Steele Center for Translational Medicine (SCTM), she thought about the risks. But she didn’t hesitate to volunteer.

“I don’t want my children, grandchildren, or anyone else to have to deal with this,” says Marcroft, now 70. “It was a no-brainer, and I am going blind in that eye anyway.”

In June 2023, Marcroft joined patients in Texas and Boston participating in a study to evaluate the safety of the new therapy. She made history as the first patient to receive the therapy at Moran.

Marcroft comes every few weeks for testing. She undergoes visual testing with an eye chart, extensive imaging of her eyes, and a dilated eye exam to inspect her retina.

Led by Gregory S. Hageman, PhD, SCTM researchers were the first to fully explain the genetics of a disease that can feel inescapable for some families. Genetic mutations on chromosomes 1 and 10 account for 90 percent of a person’s risk of developing AMD.

Marcroft has chromosome 1 disease, the most common form. The SCTM therapy was injected into her eye.

A second testing phase is expected to begin in late 2024 to evaluate how effective the therapy is at preserving vision. The hope: one day, a single injection can be given to people at high risk for AMD or in the early stages of the disease to stop it from progressing or maybe even prevent it.

The SCTM isn’t stopping there. Its researchers have multiple therapies in their pipeline— including one for people with chromosome-10-driven AMD.

How the AMD gene therapy is designed to work

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