In a new study, researchers found that calcified nodules in the retina are linked to progression to late stages of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
The study was done by experts from Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Alabama of Birmingham, in collaboration with UK material scientists and US clinical ophthalmology practices.
The research made the ground-breaking discovery that the calcified nodules in the retina – the thin layer of tissue that lines the back of the eye – increase the risk for progression to advanced AMD more than six times.
The findings could revolutionize treatment options for people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of vision impairment in older individuals worldwide.
Currently, there is no treatment for the majority of patients with AMD and irreversible visual loss has been associated with depression and other health problems.
The caregiving or institutional living of AMD are expensive. Based on the global burden of AMD the cost is estimated to be over 300 billion worldwide.
The experts carried out the research as there is an urgent need to identify early events that might lead to visual loss so that these events can be targeted.
They used clinical imaging in patients and molecular analysis of eye samples.
The team discovered that large calcified nodules in the retina were linked to progression of late stages of AMD, especially with the more insidious atrophic form of the disease.
The experts believe that with further research and with early intervention, some patients could actually be treated with simple measures such as modifying their diet.
Their research revealed that early changes in the back of the eye can lead to the build-up of hard mineral deposits, made of calcium and phosphate that may incorporate other types of trace metals, like magnesium.
The build-up of these mineral deposits is an indicator of irreversible damage of the retina.
The team suggests that Identification of these risks associated with disease progression in the eye, especially in the retina, could become a diagnostic tool for monitoring the progression of retinal degeneration.
This allows ophthalmologists to counsel their patients more wisely and also allow us to think about slowing or halting the progression of the disease, earlier in its course.
Therefore, delaying progression of AMD, or better yet, minimizing or eliminating risk factors, could lead to a substantial reduction in costs borne by health care payers, individuals, and society.
This work will substantially advance the field and spur new thinking in AMD.
The next steps for the research team will be to further their understanding of the disease processes associated with this degeneration.
The team will aim to help determine new treatment options for patients, which could be as simple as a modification of diet.
The research will also allow ophthalmologists to advise their patients about prognosis more fully, based on the details found in their clinical imaging.
The research is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
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