Researchers to use cutting-edge technology to investigate genetic links in age-related macular degeneration

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20 January 2020
Source: Fight for Sight

Eye research charity Fight for Sight is funding researchers from the University of Manchester to investigate the genetic risk of the UK’s leading cause of blindness, age-related macular degeneration.

Researchers led by Dr Rachel Taylor will use a combination of cutting-edge technologies – including molecular ‘tools’ from bacteria – to analyse the impact of gene changes identified in families where there are multiple generations living with age-related macular degeneration.

Using genome editing, the researchers will generate a bank of cells that carry the same DNA changes identified in patients who have macular changes under the age of 50 to model the condition. The researchers hope the information can be used to develop more individualised treatments for patients with macular degeneration.

Some forms of age-related macular degeneration affect multiple generations of the same family suggesting that they are highly genetic. Changes in several genes in the immune system have been associated with an increased risk of the condition, however scientists don’t currently know how these alterations lead to macular degeneration. As a result, there’s no way of predicting accurately whether a patient is likely to develop the condition.

Dr Rachel Taylor from the University of Manchester said: “This research will enable us to better understand the role of gene changes in age-related macular degeneration and why this devastating condition can occur more in some families. It could also allow for the development of genetic tests so that doctors can more accurately predict an individual’s likelihood of developing macular degeneration, estimate how it may affect their vision, and allow the development of a personalised treatment plan.”

Head of Research at Fight for Sight, Dr Rubina Ahmed said: “We are pleased to fund this valuable piece of research which could lead to a genetic model for age-related macular degeneration and develop more targeted treatment, helping families that are affected by this condition. It’s important to be able to diagnose this condition early because treatment can help prevent wet macular degeneration from getting worse. Unfortunately, once damage has happened, it’s irreversible which is why we are funding so much research to help tackle the leading cause of blindness in the UK.”

About age-related macular degeneration

Macular degeneration, also known as macular disease or age-related macular degeneration (AMD), causes loss of central vision as a result of damage to the macula – a tiny collection of light-sensitive cells found within the retina at the back of the eye. These cells are vital for seeing detail.

Damage to the macula can’t be reversed. It’s the most common cause of permanent and severe sight loss in the UK, affecting around 600,000 people – this number is expected to more than double by 2050.

There are two types of macular degeneration – ‘dry’ and ‘wet’. Dry macular degeneration tends to develop more slowly over time, while the wet form of the condition can cause rapid severe sight loss.

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