More than 2 million Americans suffer from age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of impaired eyesight in older adults. Damage to the macula, at the center of the retina, leads to blurred or reduced central vision, which can limit the ability to perform important daily tasks such as reading, writing, recognizing faces or driving. But in findings published in November in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers in the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology have determined that an enzyme known for its role in immune-system response to infection also appears to play a role in triggering the inflammation that leads to the most common, “dry” form of macular degeneration.
The research findings are promising because they identify a single enzyme that seems to set off an “overdrive of inflammation” that damages the cells in the macula, according to researcher Dr. Jayakrishna Ambati, vice chair for research for the Department of Ophthalmology. With this knowledge comes the potential to develop treatments to target and block that specific enzyme.
As no FDA-approved treatments currently exist for the dry form, which represents up to 90 percent of cases, the discovery offers hope for progress in combating this vision-limiting condition that is projected to affect nearly 200 million people worldwide by 2020.