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HomeminewsEarly AMD Detection to Help Prevent Blindness

Early AMD Detection to Help Prevent Blindness

A new technique discovered by researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) may identify healthy people at risk of developing Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

Using standard clinical techniques, the detection of AMD has previously not been possible in the disease’s early, or “subclinical”, stages. Practitioners tend to diagnose AMD once small changes become visible at the back of a patient’s eye. However, degeneration begins many years before these clinical signs appear.

During a two-year research project, eye specialist Dr. Beatrix Feigl from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI) used a “dim light vision” test which was very sensitive to early changes in a person’s vision.

“We can detect subclinical visual impairment in healthy participants genetically at risk for AMD. In the future we hope this test might be utilised by ophthalmologists and optometrists to identify patients with a high genetic risk of developing AMD but without any clinical signs of the disease. This would enable specialists to advise patients on lifestyle changes which may delay disease onset and reduce its severity.” she said.

The number of people who could potentially benefit from this research is enormous. “One in seven Australians over 50 is affected by this disease

Dr. Feigl said that genetic pre-disposition accounted for around half the cases of AMD. However, lifestyle risk factors for AMD, which could be controlled by a patient, included poor diet, lack of exercise and smoking.

“We know that lifestyle changes can decrease a person’s chance of getting worse forms of the disease,” she said.

The number of people who could potentially benefit from this research is enormous. “One in seven Australians over 50 is affected by this disease,” Dr. Feigl said.

The next phase of Dr. Feigl’s research will be a longitudinal study, following up with people who took part in the study who were shown to have early changes to their vision It is hoped that this second stage of
the research will prove that the subclinical vision impairment has been an accurate predictor of AMD.

Dr. Feigl said that while people can be gene tested, and lifestyle risk factors can be analysed, neither of these predictors alone is entirely prognostic. Instead, a clinical vision test is needed to allow a rigorous assessment of the role of both genes and lifestyle on the development of AMD – the leading cause of blindness in Australia.