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Know More: Trigger for macular degeneration discovered

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

A trigger for the most common form of vision loss has been discovered. Anindra Siqueira tells you about the new findings

Macular degeneration is the most common form of loss of vision among the elderly, and as many as 11 million people in the US and nearly 200 million people worldwide have some form of age-related macular degeneration. But, in a big step forward against the condition, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have discovered a possible trigger for the eye condition.

The findings, it is expected, will allow doctors to tackle and halt inflammation early, potentially saving people from losing their sight. “For the first time, we know in macular degeneration what is one of the very first events that triggers the system to get alarmed and start, to use an anthropomorphic term, hyperventilating. This overdrive of inflammation is what ultimately damages cells, and so, potentially, we have a way of interfering very early on in the process,” said Jayakrishna Ambati, MD, vice chairman for research of UVA’s Department of Ophthalmology.

The culprit is a specific enzyme, which is known for its role in the body’s immune response. However, with the “dry” form of age-related macular degeneration, this enzyme is activated, even though there doesn’t seem to be any need for an immune response. “It’s really surprising that in macular degeneration, which, as far as we know, has nothing to do with viruses or bacteria, that cGAS is activated, and that this alarm system is turned on,” Ambati said. “This is what leads to the killing of the cells in the retina, and, ultimately, vision loss.”

It is expected that a drug to suppress this enzyme will be developed, but it might take some time, as it would need to go through extensive testing. However, these findings do come as good news for those looking to develop new treatments for dry macular degeneration.

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