Common depression drug may help treat blinding eye disease

Credit: Lisa Fotios / Pexels

A recent study from the University of Virginia found an antidepressant best known as Prozac could offer the first treatment for the leading cause of blindness among people over 50.

They found early evidence that the drug fluoxetine may be effective against atrophic (or “dry”) age-related macular degeneration, a condition that affects nearly 200 million people worldwide.

The drug has shown promise in the scientists’ lab tests and animal models, and the researchers bolstered by their results by examining two huge insurance databases encompassing more than 100 million Americans.

That analysis concluded that patients taking fluoxetine were less likely to develop atrophic macular degeneration (AMD).

Based on their findings, the researchers are urging clinical trials to test the drug in patients with AMD. If successful, they believe the drug could be administered either orally or via a long-lasting implant in the eye.

The researchers believe fluoxetine works against AMD by binding with a particular agent of the immune system known as an inflammasome. This inflammasome, NLRP3-ASC, triggers the breakdown of the pigmented layer of the eye’s retina.

After conducting extensive bench research, the team tested fluoxetine and eight other depression drugs in lab mice to see what effect, if any, the drugs would have in a model of AMD.

Fluoxetine slowed the progression of the disease, but the others did not, the scientists found.

Encouraged by their findings, the researchers looked at fluoxetine use among patients over age 50 in two enormous insurance databases.

People taking the drug had a “significantly” slower rate of developing dry AMD.

These findings are an exciting example of the promise of drug repurposing, using existing medicines in new and unexpected ways

The researchers note that their approach, combining bench research with big-data analysis, could potentially facilitate the repurposing of existing drugs for many conditions, speeding up new treatments for patients.

If you care about eye health, please read studies that widely used vitamin supplement may harm eye health, and your eye color might be why you have the ‘winter blues’.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about why eye contact is rare among people with autism, and results showing drug that benefits older people with blinding eye disease.

The study was published in the scientific journal PNAS and conducted by Bradley D. Gelfand, et al.

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