Encouraging results may lead to effective screening tool
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive disease, but it doesn’t advance in every patient who shows early signs. Nor does everyone with a genetic susceptibility to AMD develop advanced stages of the disease.
At present, there is no way of determining who will go blind from AMD and who will not. But John W. Crabb, PhD, and his team of researchers at the Cole Eye Institute and Lerner Research Institute are trying to change that.
They are working on identifying specific biomarkers that could be used in conjunction with genetic markers to accurately predict susceptibility to AMD, which is the leading cause of blindness for people over 65.
They already have linked three oxidative protein modifications to increased risk for the disease. These proteins were modified by oxidation fragments from fats and sugars.
“Oxidative damage to proteins is associated with AMD,” says Dr. Crabb, whose lab is in the Department of Ophthalmic Research at the Cole Eye Institute. “Smoking causes oxidative damage and increases the risk of AMD at least twofold,” he says. Excess fat or sugar in the system may have a similar effect.
A genetic predisposition, then, is not the whole story with AMD. “Everybody with susceptible genes does not develop AMD,” says Dr. Crabb. “Lifestyle has something to do with it – smoking, eating the wrong foods.”
The results of his team’s research are promising for future patient management. “Our latest biomarker findings encourage us to believe that we will be successful in developing a clinically useful method for monitoring AMD risk and assessing the effectiveness of AMD therapeutics,” Dr. Crabb says.
However, it will be quite a while for this to become a routine screening tool. “Data must still be collected demonstrating that we can accurately predict who will develop advanced AMD,” Dr. Crabb says. “We are currently monitoring patients, and it can take many years for the disease to progress from early to advanced stages.”
In the meantime, he suggests, “Exercise, be careful what you eat, and don’t smoke!”
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