20 April 2012
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) has long been seen as the most common cause of elderly people suffering from blindness in the UK.
This statistic could soon be a thing of the past though, thanks to the discovery of a new chemical which could fight off the effects of the severe condition.
Scientists at Trinity College Dublin believe that the chemical could be given as a one-off injection, with the results stopping AMD from developing into a more serious form.
The condition usually begins in the dry format, which can affect eyesight gradually over a long period of time – sometimes lasting decades.
Such a procedure is drawn out as AMD relates to a condition in which cells in the macula area of the eye – the part of the retina which allows a person to see straight ahead – slowly deteriorate and die.
However, one in seven cases of dry AMD have been found to develop into the wet form, which is more dangerous in the fact that people can lose their central vision almost immediately following the procedure.
Trinity College Dublin scientists believe that its newly-discovered chemical has the potential to destroy the link between dry AMD and wet AMD.
The potential medical breakthrough will also likely be welcomed due to the fact that it comes at a time when the number of people suffering from AMD is expected to treble over the next 25 years.
According to the Daily Mail, such a rapid increase is being predicted due to the fact that the UK's population ages at a time where treatments for the condition are few and far between, while cures are non-existent.
Avril Daly, of the charity Fighting Blindness Ireland, which provided some of the funding for the research regarding the chemical, is hopeful of the advantages that the chemical and a subsequent injection could bring to the medical field.
She explained: "Anything that could prevent the onset of wet macular degeneration would be a huge relief and a huge benefit, not only to the individuals themselves but also to the healthcare service."
Although the research is only in its early stages, the chemical has already shown positive health signs when trialled on animals and human eyes which were donated to the cause.
The scientists explained that the experiments highlighted the impact that the immune chemical IL-18 had on the conversion between dry AMD and wet AMD.
As a result, the study group estimated that by increasing how much IL-18 is in a person's eye, the process can be fought off entirely.
Dr Matthew Campbell, a researcher at Trinity College Dublin, acknowledged: "It means if you take someone with dry AMD and inject IL-18 into the retina, you could potentially prevent them from ever getting wet AMD."
Fellow researchers and wife of Dr Campbell, Dr Sarah Doyle, agrees with her husband's findings.
She stated: "Our results directly suggest that controlling or indeed augmenting the levels of IL-18 in the retinas of patients with dry AMD could prevent the wet form of the disease."
The scientists behind the research went on to point out that by completely cutting out the risk of someone developing wet AMD, elderly people will have a better chance to continue enjoying such everyday activities as reading, driving and watching television well into old age.
Plenty of research has already been carried out with regard to AMD, although scientists are still unable to pinpoint the exact reason why the condition develops in the first place.
However, it has been established that the older that a person gets, the larger the chance that they have of suffering from the eyesight disorder.
On top of this, separate studies have suggested that people exposing their eyes to high levels of sunlight are putting themselves at an increased risk of suffering from AMD later in life.
Evidence has also came to light that a diet high in vitamins A, C and E and zinc can help to slow the progression of AMD, while it has also been claimed that women are more at risk of contracting the condition than men.
Posted by Philip Briggs
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