According to this article, researchers have worked out one of the root causes of age-related macular degeneration AMD – the most common form of blindness in the elderly – and have developed two treatments that could combat it.
The first patients could be treated this year. This is particularly important because the numbers of AMD sufferers is expected to treble in the next 25 years as the population ages, there is an urgent need for a breakthrough.
AMD is caused by deterioration and death of cells in the macula, part of the retina used to see straight ahead. The disease creates a blackspot in the centre of a person’s vision. It can make it impossible to carry out everyday tasks such as reading, driving and watching television.
Researchers at the University of Kentucky compared the eyes donated by men and women who had died with AMD with those of non-sufferers. They found that levels of an enzyme called dicer were three times higher in the healthy retinas. They then showed that when levels of dicer are low, a toxic type of genetic material called alu builds up, which leads to the death of the light-sensitive retinal cells,
There are two drugs that could halt the disease. One boosts levels of dicer, the other breaks down the toxic alu. The University of Kentucky has applied to patent the techniques and the first trials could start by the end of this year.
Future options include ‘bionic eyes’ – or tiny microchips packed with hundreds of light sensors designed to replace those in the retina lost to disease.
Some really interesting research, which could make a real difference to quality of life for people as they get older, and more time to get on with enjoying that next holiday instead!