Michael Owen today revealed how he wishes he could give his 17-year-old son his own eyes after opening up on his family’s pain regarding Stargardt disease — the incurable condition that has left his child clinically blind. 

James was diagnosed with Stargardt at just eight. 

Michael told Mail Sport in an exclusive interview that his son’s diagnosis was difficult to come to terms with at the start and recalled breaking down in private after learning about the ramifications it would have on James’ life. 

Stargardt disease is an inherited eye condition, meaning it gets passed down from parents to children. It is not contagious.

It is caused by a faulty gene that leads to a build-up of fatty deposits on the macula, a small part of the retina crucial to achieving sharp central vision. 

This type of vision is critical to activities that involve seeing things in fine detail like watching TV or reading. 

Stargardt disease has no cure and is progressive, gradually getting worse over time. 

Eventually most people with Stargardt disease will see at 6m the same level of detail a normal people sees at between 60m to 120m.

Sufferers can retain their peripheral vision, what people see out of the corners of their eye, but such is the extent of their vision loss they become clinically blind. 

Early symptoms include struggling to read or see in dim light, loss of detailed vision or colour perception, wavy vision as well as blind spots and blurriness in central part of the eye. 

These signs are usually spotted among children between the ages of six and 12, though it can also rarely emerge later in life. 

It is usually diagnosed by an optician or optometrist, who can spot the build-up of fatty deposits on the retina using their equipment.

While there is no cure some treatments are available to slow, but not halt, the progression of the disease.

These include using UV-blocking sunglasses to stop sunlight from degrading vision further, as well avoiding large amounts of vitamin A. 

Vitamin A, which is found in leafy vegetables, dairy and liver, is normally good for eyesight but some people with Stargardt are thought to not be able to process it properly, meaning it actually damages their eye health.

Stargardt sufferers are also told to avoid lifestyle factors which damage eyesight generally, such as smoking, excess alcohol intake, and being fat. 

While scientists are experimenting with stem cell treatments to ‘re-grow’ parts of the eye damaged by the condition, these clinical trials are still underway. 

Stargardt doesn’t affect other aspects of health, meaning sufferers still live to a normal life expectancy. 

The risk of passing on Stargardt to your children varies depending on what form of the gene you might have.

Michael Owen's tight-knit family includes son James (top right), wife of 29 years Louise (bottom left) and daughters Jessica, Gemma, and Emily (left to right)

Michael Owen’s tight-knit family includes son James (top right), wife of 29 years Louise (bottom left) and daughters Jessica, Gemma, and Emily (left to right)

Owen and his son are hoping to raise awareness of Stargardt's and other eye conditions through their new documentary 'Football is For Everyone'

Owen and his son are hoping to raise awareness of Stargardt’s and other eye conditions through their new documentary ‘Football is For Everyone’

Stargardt is passed in either a dominant or recessive form.

In the most common type (recessive), both parents need to have a copy of the disease-causing gene to potentially pass it on to their children.

Yet the parents themselves will have a healthy version of the gene, which will typically counteract the faulty one, meaning they likely won’t show any signs of Stargardt. Their children might not be so lucky, however.

There is a 25 per cent chance a child inherits the faulty gene from both their parents and goes on to develop Stargardt.

This genetic roll of the dice means Stargardt can often appear in families with no prior history of the disease.

In the dominant form, the disease it is passed on directly from a parent who has Stargardt.

This leaves a child with a 50 per cent chance of developing the disease themselves depending on which gene they inherit from their parents.

If a child doesn’t inherit the gene that causes the disease they cannot pass it on to their own children.

Unlike some other genetic diseases, which are linked to particular sex chromosomes, Stargardt has an equal chance of striking boys and girls. 

People with Stargardt are often invited to take part in genetic testing following their diagnosis.

This helps them and their families learn more about the particulars of their gene, the implications for their relatives and for any children they may have in the future.  

It is estimated that between one in every 8,000 to 10,000 people have Stargardt.

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