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Dublin: 13 °C Saturday 25 October, 2014

Trinity researchers make blindness breakthrough

The researchers looked at age-related macular degeneration, which causes blindness in sufferers.

Image: Eye via Shutterstock

IRISH SCIENTISTS HAVE made a major breakthrough in relation to an eye disease that can cause blindness.

The Trinity College Dublin scientists say their discovery has important implications for sufferers of the eye disease Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

AMD

AMD is one of the most common forms of blindness in the aging population.

It involves a loss of central vision, and people suffering at advanced stages are unable to read, watch TV, drive, or use computers.

There are two forms of AMD: ‘dry’ and ‘wet’.

Dry AMD accounts for the majority of cases, but wet AMD causes over 90 per cent of blindness associated with the disease.

In wet AMD, blood vessels underneath the retina begin to grow abnormally, which causes almost immediate central blindness. Wet AMD sufferers experience severe and profound day-to-day challenges.

Discovery

The Trinity scientists found that a component of the immune system, ‘IL-18’, acts as a “guardian of eyesight”.

It does this by suppressing the production of damaging blood vessels behind the retina at the back of the eye.

In addition, in pre-clinical models, it was shown that ‘IL-18’ can be administered in a non-invasive way. The researchers say this could represent a “major improvement” on the current therapeutic options for patients.

Assistant Professor in Immunology at Trinity, Sarah Doyle, explained that they were initially concerned that IL-18 might cause damage to the sensitive cells of the retina, because it is typically linked to inflammation.

But surprisingly we found that low doses had no adverse effects on the retina and yet still suppressed abnormal blood vessel growth.

Treatment options for wet AMD are currently limited to the end stages of the disease.

Regular injections of antibodies must be made directly into the eye to mop up a problematic molecule termed ‘VEGF’.

The Trinity scientists found that IL-18 directly inhibits VEGF production. They also discovered that it can work as effectively as the current treatment when given via a non-invasive intravenous injection in pre-clinical settings.

“Our findings have highlighted the power of industry-academic collaborations, the results of which should lead to clinical deployment of IL-18 as a treatment for AMD in the short term,” said Research Assistant Professor in Genetics at Trinity, Matthew Campbell.

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