Researcher Inspired by a Family History of Color-blindness

When she was a child, Maureen Neitz, Ph.D., recalls her uncles and her brother teasing one another about the severity of their color-blindness. “They used to say things like, ‘I’m not as bad as you,’” says Neitz. “But now I know they’re all equally bad.”

Color-blindness refers to the inability to distinguish between red and green and all the colors in-between, like yellow and orange. It’s more widespread than you might think, affecting 1 in 12 men and 1 in 230 women. Neitz, a UW professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and the Ray H. Hill Endowed Chair in Ophthalmology, is exploring how to cure retinal disorders, including color-blindness. “Some people don’t think it’s a serious disorder, but color-blindness can have a significant impact on people’s lives,” says Neitz.

Take her brother, for instance. A biochemistry major in college, he had difficulty performing titrations in the lab because he could not see the color changes indicating chemical reactions. He also had difficulty doing animal dissections because a specimen’s anatomy was color-coded. “He was struggling in classes I was acing,” says Neitz. “The only difference was that I could see color.”

Neitz went on to launch her career in researching color-blindness by sequencing the gene for her brother’s cone photo pigment; cones are the cells that allow us to perceive color. The results, published in Nature in 1989, proved vital to understanding the cell mutations responsible for deficiencies in color vision. Now, Neitz and her husband, Jay Neitz, Ph.D., are exploring how gene therapy can be used to cure color-blindness, as well as treat other vision disorders, like age-related macular degeneration. The next step for Neitz is to secure funding for a clinical trial to test safety and efficacy.

“Our work could really benefit people who are unable to pursue their dreams because of color-blindness,” she says.

Connect With Us

Help us go green

Help us go green
Update your email address

Send a ClassNote

Send a ClassNote
Send an update

Write the editor

Write the editor
Tell us what you think

Make a Gift

UW Medicine UW School of Medicine

Box 358045, Seattle, WA 98195-8045 206.685.1875 | medalum@uw.edu