A history teacher who suffers from a rare inherited disorder has had his vision saved by a revolutionary gene therapy treatment.

Joe Pepper, 24, a teacher at exclusive St John’s School in Leatherhead, was featured on the BBC six o’clock news after undergoing surgery which appears to have significantly improved his vision, and which it is hoped will lead the way in treating sight loss.

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Mr Pepper (pictured above with students) from Colin Close, Shirley, was diagnosed with choroideremia – a rare genetic disorder that mean light-detecting cells in the back of his eyes were slowly dying – at the age of nine.

If untreated, Mr Pepper could eventually have gone blind.

His deteriorating vision forced him to give up cricket at 16, but after taking part in the trailblazing clinical study in which British scientists injected working copies of the faulty gene into his retina, he is now enjoying coaching pupils in cricket at St John’s.

The surgery appears to have not only halted the deterioration of Mr Pepper’s vision, but also to have improved his vision significantly.

When he realised he could read four lines further on the eye chart than before surgery, Mr Pepper was moved to tears.

He said: "Seeing four lines more on the vision chart than I could before is something that you cannot put words to.

“Five years ago this was not an option. It was more like pigs could fly than actually me keeping my sight."

BBC Science correspondent Pallab Ghosh came to St John’s School to interview Mr Pepper last week, filming him at the school’s cricket nets and also teaching in the classroom.

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Mr Pepper (pictured above with students) paid a glowing tribute to Professor Robert MacLaren of Oxford University, the eye surgeon leading the trial.

He said: “Robert and his team at Oxford are absolutely phenomenal people, and now the opportunity is that more and more people are going to have the chance to have their vision saved.

"That’s what’s really exciting."        

It is hoped that since the treatment corrects the DNA in the cells, that the process only has to be carried out once, and that similar treatments could be developed to treat other conditions including age-related macular degeneration.

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