m
Recent Posts
Connect with:
Friday / May 27.
HomeminewsResearchers Deliver Updates on Macular Disease Findings

Researchers Deliver Updates on Macular Disease Findings

Gene therapies and the growth of retinal pigment epithelial cells from induced pluripotent stem cells are just some of the major advances taking place in Australian research laboratories in an effort to find new ways to treat macular disease.

Three leading Australian researchers who’s work has been funded by the Foundation presented the work they have underway. The event was hosted by Macular Disease Foundation Australia during Macular Degeneration Awareness Week.

Professor Paul Mitchell, one of the world’s leading experts on the epidemiology and treatment of macular diseases spoke about the major advances in macular degeneration research to date, describing the ongoing importance of the Blue Mountains Eye Study to a broad range of research projects and the development of anti-VEGF injections – a “revolution in treatment” for wet macular degeneration. Professor Mitchell also presented unsettling statistics on the negative impact low vision has on quality of life. He said people with vision impairment worse than 6/12 have:

  • A three-fold increased risk of falling
  • An eight-fold higher risk of hip fracture within two years
  • A four-fold higher need for community support services
  • A two to four-fold need to move into a nursing home earlier than their peers.

There were also significant impacts on quality of life, greater risk of depression and, due to these factors and more, a higher likelihood of dying earlier than their normally sighted peers. Mortality is not normally associated with vision impairment and as such health care professionals need to be aware of this risk.

Research has found that some of these metabolites can inhibit neovascularisation, which is the precursor of wet macular degeneration in mice, and importantly, in human studies it has been shown that increased consumption of fatty fish rich in omega-3 acids can protect against late age-related macular degeneration…

Prof. Mitchell said for most people, there is a long lead time (10 – 20 years) between the symptoms of macular degeneration developing and vision loss occurring. This provides adequate time to arrest or slow progression with an eye healthy diet, smoking cessation, exercise and when appropriate, early initiation of treatment.

He said genetic information could eventually enable medical health professionals to detect those at highest risk of developing late stage macular degeneration so that strategies could be put in place to control progression. The problem he said, would be to convince the payers – i.e. Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee – that genetic testing to facilitate early treatment is a cost effective way to improve patient outcomes and quality of life.

Prof. Mitchell highlighted that the development of an effective treatment for dry age-related macular degeneration is a major global priority. He said the explosion in knowledge of the genetics of macular degeneration is opening up many exciting opportunities for new therapies.

Associate Professor Gerald Liew and Professor Damien Harkin gave informative updates on current findings of their individual research projects, both part funded by the Macular Disease Foundation Australia Research Grants Program.

A/Professor Liew’s project involves cutting-edge research in the new field of metabolomics, which has the potential to develop a simple new blood test for the disease and to identify possible new targets for treatment. A/Prof. Liew said his study was focussing on polyunsaturated fatty acid derived metabolites – in particular omega-3 and omega-6 found in fatty fish.

“Research has found that some of these metabolites can inhibit neovascularisation, which is the precursor of wet macular degeneration in mice, and importantly, in human studies it has been shown that increased consumption of fatty fish rich in omega-3 acids can protect against late age-related macular degeneration… We want to identify which ones of the polyunsaturated fatty acid pathways are associated with macular degeneration and why abnormalities cause macular degeneration.

A/Prof. Liew said this could provide new therapeutic pathways – new ways to prevent or treat macular degeneration, in particular the dry form, and because we are looking at blood samples, this may lead to the development of a simple blood test to identify people at high risk of macular degeneration so they can be monitored more closely. It may also be possible for these people to eat away their risk with an eye health diet.

Professor Harkin’s study is researching an intervention to facilitate the implantation of stem cell-derived retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells in order to rescue the photoreceptors. To do this he is developing a biological scaffold from silk protein on which new RPE cells can be grown for subsequent transplantation into the eye.

Prof. Harkin said silk has a long history of use surgically, however with variable success. “If you purify the structural component of silk, a lot of the side effects of using silk on its own can be avoided and you can make a lot of structures,” explained Prof. Harkin. The project is also looking at growing the replacement RPE cells from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) which he explained can theoretically be produced from a patient for the purpose of treating the same patient, thereby avoiding rejection issues. Prof. Harkin said iPS cells can also be used to generate healthy vascular endothelial cells.

DECLARATION

DISCLAIMER : THIS WEBSITE IS INTENDED FOR USE BY HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS ONLY.
By agreeing & continuing, you are declaring that you are a registered Healthcare professional with an appropriate registration. In order to view some areas of this website you will need to register and login.
If you are not a Healthcare professional do not continue.