Age-Related Macular Degeneration May Be Prevented

A new cell culture model may lead to drugs that prevent age-related macular degeneration disease progression.

Investigators in a new study created a new cell culture model that could lead to early treatment strategies to halt disease progression in patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

AMD is the third most prevalent cause of vision loss in the world, and occurs twice as often as Alzheimer’s disease in elderly adults. The disease affects the central part of the retina, and causes blurred vision, which eventually leads to vision loss.

In a study published by Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, the authors discovered that when grown on specific surfaces, retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells removed from the eye recreate major elements of drusen, which are yellow deposits under the retina that increase the risk of AMD.

The cell model shows that RPE from patients with early AMD are functional. The model also demonstrated that the Bruch’s membrane, which is where RPE cells grow, is critical for the creation of drusen deposits.

Thus far, this new cell culture model is the most comprehensive and provides insight into disease progression, and the best method for early treatment prior to vision loss, according to the study.

“We expect that this reproducible and valid model system will be important in determining what molecules in drusen and what changes in RPE cells can cause advancement to late stages of AMD,” said Imre Lengyel, PhD, who conducted the mineralomics analysis on the study.

With the elderly population rapidly growing, new drugs that prevent vision loss and help this population maintain their independence are highly sought, according to the study.

“There is no better education for a student than to be part of an important interdisciplinary project and learn about team science in addition to advanced microanalysis,” said Matthew Pilgrim, PhD student at the Institute of Ophthalmology, University College London. “Working on a project that is important for patients is very rewarding.”

These findings suggest that reducing drusen deposits may benefit patients with early stage disease, and could prevent disease progression. Preventing disease progression will likely lower costs associated with adverse events and home healthcare that is typically required when a patient loses their vision.

This research will likely become significant for patients with AMD, their families, and ophthalmologists, according to the study.

“Based on our experiments there is a whole new way to look at how drusen form and increase the risk of developing AMD,” said researcher Christine Curcio, PhD, Department of Ophthalmology at University of Alabama, Birmingham. “From this research study we now believe that drusen reduction is now a viable treatment goal.”