Major step forward in understanding age-related macular degeneration

10 February 20

written by:

Róisín Treacy

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Macular degeneration blurs out a grandmother playing with her grandchild.


New research could pave the way for a new treatment to help prevent the most common cause of blindness.

A team of international scientists, part funded by Fight for Sight, has found a link between a particular protein in the blood and age-related macular degeneration. The study has been described as a major step forward in the understanding of the condition. It was carried out by a team from universities in Manchester, Cardiff, London and Nijmegen.

The research team compared blood samples from patients who have age-related macular degeneration and patients of a similar age who don’t have it. It was discovered that the protein, called FHR-4, was higher in the blood of those with the eye condition.

The reason why the protein is high in the blood is genetic. The study found that these same genetic variations that lead to high FHR-4 levels in the blood are also associated with age-related macular degeneration.  Age-related macular degeneration is known to have a strong genetic component and this research explains, in part, why this is the case.

Professor Paul Bishop at the University of Manchester said: “These findings are a really big step forward in the field of age-related macular degeneration research. Understanding more about the condition allows us to think of new ways of treating it. If we can lower the levels of this protein in the blood, then this could provide a new type of treatment for age-related macular degeneration. We hope that this research may even pave the way towards a treatment to prevent people from ever getting age-related macular degeneration at all.”

Head of Research at Fight for Sight Dr Rubina Ahmed said: “The findings of Professor Bishop and the team’s research represents a very exciting step towards finding a new treatment for age-related macular degeneration. This work shows the possibilities of eye research to make significant breakthroughs and find new treatments for the prevailing causes of sight loss. The only barrier is the funding to make it happen, with only one percent of public funding going to eye research.”

The FHR-4 protein is made in the liver and travels in circulation around the body. However, when it reaches the eye it causes inflammation which predisposes to age-related macular degeneration.

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.

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