Fight for Sight study to use twins to explore role of gut in age-related macular degeneration

25 June 20

written by:

Róisín Treacy

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Two older female identical twins.


Fight for Sight is partnering with the Royal College of Ophthalmologists to fund a study into the role of the gut microbiome in age-related macular degeneration, which may help researchers better understand the disease and develop new therapies for treating it.

The charity has announced the funding during Macular Week 2020 (22 – 28 June).

This study will use macular optical coherence tomography (OCT) scans of twins to produce detailed, high-resolution images of the macula which show changes of age-related macular degeneration.

Dr Zakariya Jarrar from King’s College will lead the research, after being awarded the Fight for Sight John Lee Primer Fellowship in partnership with the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.

Age-related macular degeneration is an inflammatory condition and many research studies have found links between the naturally-occurring bacteria, viruses and fungi in our gut (the gut microbiome) and other common inflammatory conditions associated with aging, such as cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's. The gut microbiome can influence and modify the body's immune responses and may be of relevance in the condition.

Age-related macular degeneration causes loss of central vision as a result of damage to the macula and cannot be reversed. It is the most common cause of permanent and severe sight loss in the UK, affecting around 600,000 people – this number is expected to more than double by 2050.

Dr Jarrar said: “Studying twins is helpful in understanding what genetic and environmental components contribute to age-related macular degeneration. This is because twins share their genes and therefore the influence of the environment can be explored, particularly when one twin develops the disease and the other does not. The twins have had stool samples taken which are being processed using advanced genetic analysis to identify which organisms are more common in healthy individuals and those with age-related macular degeneration. We will then look at what those organisms do and how they influence the immune system with regards to age-related macular degeneration.”

Chief Executive of Fight for Sight, Sherine Krause, said: “We remain as committed as ever to the fight against sight loss and we are very pleased to fund this important research study in partnership with the Royal College of Ophthalmologists into the most common cause of blindness in the UK. We know that science ultimately has the answer to so many challenges – the power of science will help us stop the pandemic in the coming months, and we know that it will help us stop sight loss and blindness in the future. That’s why we’ve launched an urgent appeal to get brilliant researchers like Dr Jarrar back to the lab as soon as it is safe to do so and keep sight-saving research going.”

Chair of the Academic Committee of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, Professor Jugnoo Rahi, said:"I am delighted that Dr Jarrar has been awarded the prestigious RCOphth John Lee Award in partnership with Fight for Sight. John Lee was a highly regarded former president and it is wonderful that his legacy lives on in this way, allowing ophthalmologists in training to carry out ophthalmic and vision research.  I would encourage all ophthalmologists interested in pursuing research training to apply for support in the next round of the John Lee Primer Fellowship.”

The research will be conducted at the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology, King's College London, by ophthalmologists (eye doctors), geriatricians (doctors specialised in the health and care of the elderly), microbiome researchers, statisticians and geneticists.

Dr Jarrar was due to begin his research this summer, however due to the current Covid-19 pandemic he has been redeployed to the frontline and has been working in intensive care for the NHS since March. He now hopes he can return to his research in August, however a date for reopening the labs remains unclear. Dr Jarrar is supporting Fight for Sight’s urgent appeal to help cover the costs in delays to projects and returning to the lab.

Read more about age-related macular degeneration