Five research projects we’re funding to tackle age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

19 June 23

written by:

Sarah Kidner

(more articles)

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of permanent and severe sight loss in the UK. For Macular Week 2023 (June 19-25), we've listed five of many research projects we have funded or are funding to improve prevention, understanding and treatment.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of permanent and severe sight loss in the UK.

  • Approximately 1.2 million people have the condition in its early stages.
  • Seven hundred thousand people in the UK have late-stage age-related macular degeneration.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), causes loss of central vision as a result of damage to the macula – a small but highly concentrated area of light-sensitive cells found within the retina at the back of the eye. These cells are vital for seeing fine details when looking straight at something, both close up and far away.

There are two types of age-related macular degeneration – ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ AMD. Dry AMD tends to develop more slowly over time, while the wet form of the condition can cause rapid severe sight loss due to blood vessels leaking (hence 'wet' AMD) and damaging the macula.

We explore five projects for Macular Week 2023 that could advance our understanding of AMD and deliver new treatments.

Read more about the anatomy of the eye.

Back a breakthrough in AMD

1. Tiger: Surgical Trial

Fight for Sight, with the support of EURETINA, is funding a European clinical trial to compare the effectiveness of two types of treatment for age-related macular degeneration.

What does the project hope to achieve?

Researchers led by Professor Timothy Jackson at King’s College London are testing a novel treatment to clear sight-threatening blood clots experienced by a small percentage of people with wet age-related macular degeneration. They will compare this surgical intervention to the standard existing treatment for wet macular degeneration.

Discover more about the Tiger Trial

2. Molecular study into AMD

Dr Mei Chen from Queen’s University Belfast will train a PhD student, researching whether it is possible to ‘turn off’ the molecule that causes the inflammation responsible for AMD.

What does the project hope to achieve?

A molecule called SIGIRR can turn off the inflammatory process. Researchers have found that eyes donated from dry AMD patients have less SIGIRR when compared with eyes from healthy donors.

Targeting SIGGR through gene therapy. Backdrop is a set of molecules.

The study will provide evidence to establish the role of SIGGIRR in macular inflammation and demonstrate whether targeting SIGIRR through gene therapy benefits people with AMD.

It could lead to effective approaches to treating dry AMD.

3. An alternative approach to treating wet-AMD

Dr Raida Al Kassas at Liverpool John Moores University was awarded a Small Grant Award by us to explore a different approach to treating wet AMD.

Neovascular, or “wet” age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is a major cause of vision loss. It is estimated that 39,800 people in the UK develop wet AMD each year.

What does the project hope to achieve?

The conventional treatment for wet AMD is to inject drugs into the eye. These drugs are usually successful in preserving vision but must be delivered regularly – sometimes monthly, which is costly to the NHS and requires frequent hospital visits.

This project aims to explore functional nanoparticles as an alternative approach. They can precisely locate a disease cell and therefore target drugs to the area of the eye that needs it. This project will help generate proof-of-concept research data that could be used to secure more funding.

4. Understanding eye calcification in AMD

We have recently awarded a Small Grant Award to Dr Sergio Bertazzo at University College London, which – if successful – could provide a basis for establishing new prevention and treatment methods for AMD in the future.

What does the project hope to achieve?

The project aims to understand calcification in the eye. Calcification – a build-up of calcium salts in the body tissue – can occur in soft tissue including the eye, resulting in tissue hardening. This process is demonstrated across a range of diseases, including AMD.

The team will analyse eye tissue samples at different stages of AMD using microscopy techniques, hoping to generate evidence for a new path of investigation into the condition.

5. Exploring the role of chromosomes in age-related macular degeneration

Another PhD Studentship was awarded to Professor Lynda Erskine at the University of Aberdeen to identify which chromosomes cause age-related macular degeneration.

What does the project hope to achieve?

Professor Erskine will use data from the largest study of the condition – the international genomics age-related macular degeneration genetic consortium.

The study will compare the abundance of chromosomes in the cells of people with macular degeneration to those in healthy people to establish if there is a pattern. It could help determine who is at higher risk of age-related macular degeneration and the likely progression of the condition.

Saving sight through research

Once wet or dry macular degeneration has happened, it is irreversible. Detected early enough, treatment can help prevent ‘wet’ macular degeneration from getting worse, but there’s currently no treatment for ‘dry’ macular degeneration, which accounts for 90 percent of cases.

That’s why we have funded and continue to fund research projects to improve our understanding of AMD and ultimately leave to treatments that can save sight.

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