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Trinity team makes breakthrough in battle with blindness in older people


Dame Judi Dench (Ian West/PA)

Dame Judi Dench (Ian West/PA)

Dame Judi Dench (Ian West/PA)

Researchers at Trinity College believe they have found a piece of the puzzle to help treat a common eye disease that can cause blindness in older people.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common disease that causes blindness in the central retina among older people.

"The disease involves a loss of central visual acuity, such that everyday tasks such as reading, watching TV, driving, or using computers become difficult and in some cases impossible," according to the research team.

Actress Judi Dench is among the high-profile sufferers of AMD.

While there are treatments for a form of the disease known as 'wet' AMD, there is currently no treatment or therapy for people suffering from 'dry' AMD, which causes a gradual deterioration in vision and can lead to blindness.

Unfortunately, dry AMD is the most common form of the disease in Ireland and elsewhere. However, following a breakthrough - published this week in the high-profile international journal, 'JCI Insight' - scientists believe they may have discovered a key molecular component that could trigger the disease.

Dr Matthew Campbell, assistant professor in genetics at Trinity, said: "We know smoking and genetics can affect it, but really it's a puzzle."

But following what he described as a "marathon study", scientists discovered that a key component of the cells lining the retinal blood vessels, namely claudin-5, may be central to the development of AMD.

In pre-clinical models, it was discovered 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," said the study's author Dr Natalie Hudson.

Patients living with dry AMD are presently recommended to pursue lifestyle changes, such as stopping smoking, and improving diet and exercise regimes.

Novel forms of therapy are desperately needed in an ever-aging society, with life expectancy currently far exceeding the rate of development of drugs for aging associated conditions.

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Dr Campbell said: "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."

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