Central to vision

30 June 16

written by:

Ade Deane-Pratt

(more articles)

Spotlight on research into conditions that affect the macula during Macula Week 2016.

It’s Macular Week 2016. Each year, thousands of people in the UK are registered blind or sight impaired due to one of the many conditions affecting the macula. We use the macula for recognising faces, reading and driving. It’s the central part of the retina – the light-sensitive layer of the eye. Fight for Sight researchers are working hard to halt sight loss in this essential part of our vision.

About half a million over 50s in the UK have age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Sight loss happens in the later stages, when people develop either geographic atrophy – the ‘dry’ form of AMD – or neovascular ‘wet’ AMD.

In the early stages of AMD, debris begins to build-up under the macular, starting the process of damage that later leads to sight loss. But there aren’t any noticeable symptoms at first and so the condition can be hard to detect.

New sight test for early AMD

But recently, Professor Roger Anderson and team at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital have developed a new type of sight test chart that is much more sensitive to changes in vision than standard test charts, for people with early AMD. Professor Anderson said:

“We have designed a new vision test – the Moorfields Acuity Chart – that can more reliably detect the earliest vision loss associated with age-related macular degeneration so that we can enter patients on treatment regimes more quickly, and monitor them more reliably than ever before.”

Can stem cells treat dry AMD?

Most people with late stage AMD – 9 in 10 – have the dry form. But at the moment we only have treatments available for wet AMD. Fight for Sight recently awarded a PhD studentship grant to Professor Alan Stitt at Queen’s University Belfast to find out whether stem cells could be a future treatment for dry AMD.

Stem cells can develop into the different types of specialised cell used in the body. Recent evidence has shown that certain blood vessel stem cells can repair damaged heart tissue. So in this project the team is finding out whether they can also repair damage from dry AMD to the delicate blood vessels that supply the retina with oxygen and nutrients.

Inherited macular dystrophy

Macular conditions can also affect children and young adults. Stargardt macular dystrophy is the most common inherited eye disorder that affects the central retina. It usually begins in children between the ages of 6 and 16.

Rose Roberts was 7 when she was diagnosed with Stargardt. See Rose and her mum Tina tell their story:

Central to our priorities

Fight for Sight teamed up with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Horizon Scanning Centre (HSC) to find out what new and emerging treatments are on the horizon for inherited retinal conditions including Stargardt. The horizon scan followed on from the Sight Loss and Vision Priority Setting Partnership (PSP) with the James Lind Alliance.

The report found a number of potential treatments on the way, including gene therapy, cell therapy and drug treatments. And Fight for Sight researchers have been working on new imaging technology to better monitor Stargardt as it progresses and to have a good way to measure how well a treatment is working.

Dr Dolores M Conroy is Fight for Sight’s Director of Research. She said:

“The macula is crucial for our everyday quality of life. If you can’t see your loved ones faces, can’t read a novel, can’t get around confidently on your own, the impact is huge. This is why medical research is so important. Research to understand AMD, Stargardt, diabetic macular oedema, macular hole and the many other conditions that affect central vision is the only way to slow, stop or prevent sight loss for macular conditions. I’m glad to see the macular getting the attention it deserves.”

Macular Week is organised by our friends at the Macular Society.

Find out more about Fight for Sight’s macular research.