Investigating the influence of a protein in the development of age-related macular degeneration

3 July 2019
Source: Fight for Sight

Protein
Protein

Fight for Sight is announcing funding for researchers from the University of Manchester who aim to investigate the role of a protein in the development of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the UK.

The protein is known normally to protect membranes and tissues around the body but its recent discovery on a special membrane (Bruch’s membrane) at the back of the eye – or retina – has raised questions about its role during the late stage of macular degeneration.

Dr Simon Clark and his team of researchers will investigate the role of this protein by using membranes taken from donated eyes, with a view to better understanding the pathogenesis of AMD and its progression from early- to late-stage, in the hope that this research will lead to the development of new treatments for the disease. Currently only some cases of late stage AMD can be treated.

The protein – known as Inter-alpha-inhibitor Heavy Chain 3 (ITIH3) – has a role in controlling immune responses, inflammation and cell function in other parts of the body which is why researchers believe it could be a contributory factor to macular degeneration.

Dr Neil Ebenezer, Director of Research, Policy and Innovation at Fight for Sight, said:

“In order to develop treatments, it’s vital to understand what’s going wrong inside cells, and we believe this protein could hold the key. This could form the foundation for creating new treatments for patients, which can intervene in the disease process and potentially protect, or slow down the progression of age related macular degeneration.”

Dr Simon Clark from the University of Manchester, said:

“This is an exciting finding. ITIH3 has never been known to be present in the back of the eye before. The fact that we know it regulates inflammation and cellular functions in other parts of the body opens up possibilities for its role in the eye. We’re very optimistic it will play a significant role in our quest to find a therapy for AMD.”

Age related macular degeneration is the most common cause of permanent and irreversible sight loss as it affects approximately 600,000 people in the UK. This number is set to more than double by 2050. There are two types of the late stage disease – dry and wet. Currently, there are no approved treatments for the patients with dry age related macular degeneration. However, wet age related macular degeneration can be treated with a series of injections, if diagnosed early enough.

Yellow deposits – known as ‘drusen’ – are a defining feature of the early stages of the condition. The deposit disrupts the flow of nutrients into the eye which leads to the loss of central vision, a common symptom of the disease.

The funding has been granted through the Masonic Charitable Foundation and Fight for Sight PhD Studentship Prize.

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