Update on Aloe Institute Support of Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB) Research
In 2012, The Aloe Institute continued to partner with the FFB 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 research that the Aloe Institute helps
A blood test to determine AMD risk
Factors such as age, smoking, overall health, and inheritance of certain genes are known to affect a person’s risk of developing AMD. Unlike the familiar blood tests to determine an individual’s risk of developing diabetes (blood sugar test) or heart disease (cholesterol), there is no test that can provide an early indication of AMD risk.
Foundation-funded researchers led by Dr. John W. Crabb are making significant progress in rectifying this situation. They have developed blood tests for several indicators of AMD risk that they are now evaluating in hundreds of patients and in people unaffected by AMD to confirm their earlier results and to assess the utility of the tests in a more diverse patient population. Having relatively simple blood tests to determine AMD risk would enable patients and retina specialists to implement timely measures to slow retinal degeneration patient population. Having relatively simple blood tests to determine AMD risk would enable patients and retina specialists to implement timely measures to slow retinal degeneration
Enhancing the understanding of retinal inflammation in AMD Postmortem examination of retinas from AMD patients frequently reveals that the retinas have been infiltrated by cells that are more typically observed during the early development of the retina and brain.
These cells are considered to be part of the immune system, but are usually associated with the nervous system, which includes the retina and brain. Corresponding cells in other parts of the body are key players in inflammatory reactions. A team headed by Dr. Joe G. Hollyfield, director of the retinal disease research center at Cole Eye Institute, is investigating the roles that these cells play in AMD. By studying retinas donated by AMD patients, they are attempting to learn if the inflammatory cells originate exclusively in the retina or if they have traveled to the retina from other parts of the body.
The team also is developing laboratory mice with retinal inflammation. As a model of human retinal inflammation, studies in these animals are likely to yield more definitive information about the source of the inflammatory cells, which would be of considerable importance in guiding future research on possible interventions.
A new approach to understanding AMD
The cells of the retina, like those throughout the body are arrayed in a thin matrix called the EMC that helps to support the cells, segregate tissues, and regulate interactions between cells.
Changes in the EMC have been associated with various diseases and there is evidence that mutations in an EMC-related gene called TIMP causes Sorsby Fundus Dystrophy, an early onset retinal degeneration that is somewhat similar to AMD. Dr. Bela Anand-Apte’s research group is investigating whether an imbalance between TIMP proteins and proteins produced by other EMC- related genes might impair the function of certain retina cells, thus triggering some of the early changes associated with AMD. Their studies employ mice that are unable to produce a particular type of TIMP protein, or that produce a form of the protein that is present in patients with Sorsby Fundus Dystrophy. This ground-breaking project could potentially identify novel therapeutic targets leading to possible treatments for AMD.