In a new study from the University of Southampton, researchers found that the signs of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can set in earlier than previously thought—even before patients begin to lose their sight.
The findings open the door for research into earlier treatment that could help slow down the onset of the condition—the most common cause of sight loss in the western world.
AMD causes loss in the center of the field of vision. It is related to aging. By definition, it affects people over 50 years of age.
In the study, the team looked at the records of over 30,000 patients who had retinal scans and genetic data stored in the UK Biobank.
There are 34 known genetic risk factors for age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
The team showed that the participants with healthy eyes and no history of AMD had thinner retinas if they carried the genes that put them at risk.
The results help researchers understand the very early stages of the disease before it is clinically apparent. If we can intervene at an earlier stage, we are more likely to be able to preserve sight.
Previous research has not fully explained which cells in the eye are affected by AMD first.
Further examination of the retinal scans in biobank showed that the photoreceptors, which sense light in the eyes, were also thinner for patients with the genetic risk factors.
The research team advises this gives them further understanding of the early stages and will help identify which cells should be targeted in further research.
Whilst further trials will still be needed to identify treatment, being able to identify the signs of AMD earlier would allow patients to make lifestyle changes that can put them at a higher risk of losing their vision earlier.
The team says changing to a Mediterranean-style diet, exercising more and stopping smoking can help prevent the progression of the disease.
If you care about eye health, please read studies about leading cause of vision loss in older people, and findings of diabetes drugs that could help prevent vision loss.
For more information about eye health, please see recent studies about diet linked to blinding eye diseases in older people, and results showing that vitamin B3 may help treat vision loss.
The study is published in Scientific Reports. One author of the study is Andrew Lotery.
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