DNA lab at NMSU partners with company to fight colorblindness; seminar planned

February 12, 2010 by Justin Bannister NMSU NewsCenter

The Clinical Testing Laboratories at New Mexico State University will soon begin genetic screenings for colorblindness. The testing is the result of a partnership with Genevolve Vision Diagnostics Inc., an Albuquerque-based company that has created the first-ever genetic test for color vision deficiency. The company is also working to eventually cure colorblindness through gene therapy.

CTL and Genevolve will discuss their partnership and the process for testing and potentially curing colorblindness during a seminar scheduled from 4-6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26, at the NMSU Golf Course Clubhouse. Professors, eye doctors and others interested in the procedure are encouraged to attend.

“Our goal is to establish a new world standard for color vision testing and to increase public safety while providing a diagnosis that doctors may discuss with their patients,” said Matt Lemelin, founder and CEO of Genevolve. “With this process, we can now diagnose the type of colorblindness and the extent of deficiency with amazing accuracy and precision.”

Lemelin said colorblindness affects one in seven males and one in 200 females, which translates to approximately 13 million people in the U.S. and 200 million people in the world. It can also seriously impact public safety. According to Lemelin, more than 100 occupations have standards for colorblindness, including pilots, firefighters, police and the military.

Lemelin said drawbacks to the 10 or so current colorblind tests include having to wait until a child is 5 years old before testing. Waiting that long could potentially affect a child’s development, especially if they have special needs. Lemelin said it is also easy for adults to memorize the answers or find other ways to fool colorblind tests, which can have potentially dangerous results.

“The National Travel Safety Bureau has linked a number of accidents to the loss of color vision. The Federal Aviation Administration states it is likely that, in some circumstances, color vision deficiencies may result in unsafe conditions,” he said.

The genetic test for colorblindness was created by Jay Neitz, a researcher from the University of Washington. Through his research in gene replacement therapy, Neitz has also cured red-green colorblindness in nine adult primates.

Genevolve will contract with CTL to process the DNA samples for the colorblindness test. CTL may also be involved in future work for the company once the clinical trials for the gene therapy cure have progressed.

“If this does half of what we expect, this partnership would create 20 to 40 additional, good-paying jobs at the laboratory,” said Stefan Long, CTL’s general manager.

CTL is part of a group of DNA and forensic testing businesses spun off from NMSU in 2005. In addition to CTL, the group also consists of The Forensics Testing Laboratory, The Genetics Testing Laboratories and Fire and Crime Scene Advanced Continuing Education. Each operation is housed at NMSU’s Arrowhead Genesis Center.

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