In a new study, researchers have discovered an unexpected link between the two main forms of blinding eye disease, the leading cause of vision loss in people 60 and older.
The finding helped them successfully treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in mice.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of Virginia.
The new discovery links the “dry” and “wet” forms of macular degeneration in a surprising way.
The team has focused primarily on the more common, and currently untreatable, dry form.
But after making a discovery about dry AMD, they went on to determine that the finding held true for wet AMD as well.
They found that the absence of a particular enzyme could drive both forms of AMD. The enzyme, called Dicer, is lost with age, and that loss leads to an overgrowth of blood vessels in the retina and other damage.
The team was able to restore the enzyme in mice by adapting a form of gene therapy already used to treat other eye diseases in people.
The work suggests that a similar approach could treat both forms of AMD, but much more testing will need to be done to determine a potential treatment’s safety and effectiveness.
If successful, though, it would be the first treatment for dry age-related macular degeneration and could significantly improve treatment for wet AMD.
Currently, patients with wet AMD have to undergo frequent injections into their eyes, which can be painful and comes with some risks.
They have to come to the eye doctor once a month or every other month. A lot of these people can’t drive. So it’s a huge burden.
The idea behind using gene therapy is that one treatment would last for a very long time. It’s a sustained therapy. So it can improve their vision and reduce the number of doctor’s visits they have to make.”
Developing a Dicer-based treatment will likely take several years if all goes well.
For now, though, the team’s discovery has shed important light on the poorly understood relationship between the two forms of AMD.
The lead author of the study is Researcher Brad Gelfand, Ph.D.
The study is published in PNAS.
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