Aging: Vision Loss

Not long ago, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) was an untreatable disease — a major cause of blindness and the leading cause of new cases of blindness in people over age 65. The disorder made it difficult, if not impossible, to read, recognize faces, drive a car, or perform even simple tasks that require hand-eye coordination.

With baby boomers nearing retirement, AMD is an urgent health problem affecting millions of Americans. Thanks to NIH research, we know a lot about the underlying causes of vision loss from AMD, such as the formation of abnormal, leaky blood vessels in the eye. Laser-based treatments, like verteporfin injection, remain effective in destroying these abnormal vessels and stabilizing advanced AMD. The most recent FDA-approved drug, ranibizumab injection, blocks vessel leakage and in many cases reverses vision loss.

In AMD, small yellowish deposits made partly of cholesterol form under the retina, blurring the sharp central area of vision. Image courtesy of NEI.In AMD, small yellowish deposits made partly of cholesterol form under the retina, blurring the sharp central area of vision.National Eye Institute

Prevention strategies are also showing promise. An NIH-funded clinical study found that a daily regimen of antioxidant vitamins and minerals delays the onset of advanced AMD by 25%. Follow-up studies are under way to examine other dietary factors that may slow or prevent vision loss from AMD.

Exciting new findings from the genomics world show still more promise. NIH-supported researchers recently identified subtle alterations in 2 immune system-related genes that account for 75% of AMD risk. Other recent studies linked 3 new genes to AMD, including 2 genes involved in the cholesterol pathway. These discoveries will allow researchers to understand what causes AMD and how to preempt it long before it has a chance to damage vision. A novel drug and cell-based delivery method has been tested by NIH-funded researchers, leading to expedited regulatory approval from the FDA for trials to treat AMD.

Imagine the Future…

  • A prescription of inexpensive dietary supplements prevents vision loss from AMD.
  • Implantable sustained-release capsules deliver genetically engineered cell therapy to damaged eyes.

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This page last reviewed on October 7, 2015