Gene Replacement May Be Key in Macular Degeneration Treatment

Man Examined For Macular DegenerationAge-related macular degeneration (AMD) destroys your sharp, central vision, which is needed to see objects clearly and to do things like reading and driving. This is caused by the deterioration of the macula or central retina.

Today, about 5 percent of individuals 65 and older are diagnosed with AMD, but the incidence is growing as the American population ages. Unfortunately, many patients with AMD remain undiagnosed for years before the condition is detected. There is currently no cure for the disease, so early detection and intervention are essential to preserve vision.

Current AMD Treatments

Since there is no cure for AMD, the main objective of treatment is to prevent further vision loss. In some cases, those with AMD can benefit from nutritional supplementation, which helps slow pigment damage in the macula. For patients with the wet type of AMD, monthly injections can halt abnormal blood vessel growth. These treatments can slow progression of AMD, but they cannot stop it completely.

The Role of Genetics and AMD

Some researchers believe that effective AMD predictors and treatments may be found by studying the human genome, or genetic code. What if genes that code for AMD could be chemically cut and replaced with healthy genes? This has already been demonstrated with laboratory mice who were predisposed to retinal disease. The diseased mice were administered a one-time treatment of genetic material from a healthy mouse, and as a result, did not develop retinal disease.

This may not seem impressive, but mouse genes are more similar to human genes than you might think. We actually share more than 80 percent of our genetic coding with rodents. Scientists are still unsure how genes are turned on or off, but believe it is probably multifactorial. One of the best ways to visualize this complex process of reversing AMD is to think of it as a complicated array of “dimmer switches” in which each switch has to be set precisely at the correct level.

Turning genetic “switches” up and down to improve vision is complex because other body systems may be adversely affected at the same time. There are 2,000 genes in the human genome that are associated with the retina, so it could take anywhere from five to ten years to complete the research (Source: American Foundation for the Blind).

Help Prevent AMD with Eye Exams

The future of AMD treatment is promising, but progress will likely be slow. As we await new therapies, the best way to prevent AMD is to make yearly appointments with your ophthalmologist for a full eye exam with dilation. Also, do not delay in calling your ophthalmologist if you notice any sudden changes in your vision. Your doctor can evaluate your eyes, diagnose a condition and determine the best course of treatment before vision loss occurs.

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