Finding a Treatment for Human Blindness
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness for Americans 60 years of age and older. As many as 9 million may suffer from AMD, and 1.8 million individuals already experience severe loss of vision. The incidence increases with age; and as the population ages, the prevalence of AMD will continue to grow. The early stages of AMD (drusen) can be readily detected, and if a patient develops severe AMD in one eye, there is a very high probability that a similar loss of vision will occur in the other eye. Therefore, if effective treatments were available, identification of the disease at a stage when therapy might still have a significant impact is certainly possible.
In the MUSC laboratory of Dr. Bärbel (Barb) Rohrer, researchers are studying new treatments for this important disorder by trying to modify the inflammatory pathways that are part of the disease. In particular, a chemical component of inflammation called “complement” may play a key role in macular degeneration. Genetic variations in a number of factors of the complement cascade are associated with increased risk of AMD. By blocking the activation of complement, it may be possible to slow the progression of the illness. This research will use a mouse model of wet macular degeneration and will hopefully be an important step forward in finding a treatment for human blindness. The recently patented compound that inhibits complement was a collaboration between the laboratories of Drs. Rohrer, Stephen Tomlinson, and Gary Gilkeson.
Preliminary data suggests that this approach can be successful and that without early treatment of this type, AMD will continue to progress in affected patients.
Bärbel (Barb) Rohrer, Ph.D. is Associate Professor with a joint appointment in the Departments of Ophthalmology and Neurosciences, Division of Research, in the College of Medicine at MUSC