Scientists at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) have made an important breakthrough in relation to age-related macular degeneration, which is the most common cause of vision loss in people over the age of 50 in Ireland.
Over 7,000 people are newly diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) every year in this country. It is a painless condition that affects a tiny part of the retina called the macula, which is located in the back of the eye.
AMD affects central vision, making it blurry. Central vision is necessary for everyday activities such as reading, driving, watching television and using computers.
The scientists have discovered that a key component of the cells that line the blood vessels of the retina, known as claudin-5, may have a key role to play in the development of the eye condition.
In pre-clinical models, they found that ‘leaky blood vessels' pre-disposed the eye to developing features of AMD.
"We were initially surprised that these blood vessels of the inner retina contributed to an AMD-like pathology, however it now appears that their dysfunction may represent one of the earliest initiating factors of the disease," explained the study's first author, Dr Natalie Hudson, of TCD.
There are two forms of AMD - dry and wet. While therapies are available for the management of wet AMD, there are no treatments, therapies or cures yet approved for dry AMD, which accounts for the majority of cases worldwide, including in Ireland.
Patients living with dry AMD are currently recommended to follow a healthy lifestyle regime, such as quitting smoking, consuming a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
However, new forms of therapy are urgently needed as people are living longer and so face an increased risk of developing age-related conditions.
"Identifying the early molecular events that cause dry AMD will allow us to develop a targeted approach to therapy. In this case, we believe that regulating the integrity of the retina's blood vessels may, over time, help to prevent the development of dry AMD," explained Dr Matthew Campbell of TCD.
The researchers added that these findings will "ultimately benefit patients in the future".
Their study is published in the journal, JCI Insight.
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