Macular Degeneration Research
The Aloe Institute continues to partner with the Foundation Fighting Blindness to support cutting edge research on age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This disease, which is the most common cause of blindness among people 55 years of age and older, affects nearly two million people in the U.S. and some ten million more are at risk for developing this condition.
Globally, the numbers affected and at risk are staggering. Despite these grim statistics, the research we support offers real hope to those affected and those at risk that we will overcome this vision-robbing disease. The following are examples of some of the promising AMD reseach that the Aloe Institute helps support.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are investigating oxidative injury to the retina, which may contribute to the development of AMD. The team is focusing on three molecules found in the retina whose activities may be increased by oxidative stress. They're determining if oxidative stress alters the location or amount of each protein in the retina. They also found that a certain antioxidant protected the retinal cells of mice from oxidative injury. Similarly, a synthetic form of a molecule present in a traditional Chinese medicine used to treat eye and other ailments transiently preserved retina cell function and appearance, and slowed retinal degeneration. These finding add to the evidence that antioxidants may have therapeutic potential for treating AMD.
Light-sensitive photoreceptors in the retina overlie specialized RPE cells that provide nutrients to and remove wastes from the former. RPE cells rest on a structure known as Bruch's membrane. At Columbia University scientists are studying age-related changes in Bruch's membrane and RPE cells relative to treating macular degeneration with transplanted retinal cells. They note that RPE cell survival declines when grown on Bruch's membranes from older donors or donors with AMD. The investigators are identifying the specific changes in RPE cell function that imperil cell survival. Characterizing both age- and disease-related changes in Bruch's membranes and in RPE cell function will enable them to evaluate treatments that might enhance the survival and growth of transplanted RPE cells. This may lead to treatments that preserve or restore Bruch's membranes, which may limit RPE cell degeneration or promote the survival of transplanted RPE cells.
Like most cells in our bodies those in the retina contain tiny structures that provide the energy they need to function properly Photoreceptors require a lot of energy, so if the supply is compromised the cells stop working, causing them to degenerate and die. Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina are screening 50,000 compounds to identify those that stimulate energy production by injured retinal cells. They initially evaluate each compound's ability to protect photoreceptors from injury caused by exposure to damaging chemicals. After a series of more rigorous evaluations the most promising are used to treat laboratory mice with retinal degenerative diseases. Already, one compound has been found to increase retinal sensitivity six-fold in mice with retinal disease; another is undergoing further evaluation. Finding ways to protect retina cells from degeneration and death would be an important advance in clinical management of AMD patients and may preserve their vision until sight-restoring interventions like gene therapy or cell transplantation become available.