TREATMENT FOR MACULAR DEGENERATION SHOWS PROMISE
A new blood filtering procedure shows promise as a potential treatment for age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss in the elderly.
One year into a nationwide clinical trial, initial data indicate that patients who received the treatment, called filtration apheresis, were seeing an average of three lines better on an eye chart compared to a control group. Moreover, six in 10 treated individuals who earlier had been unable to pass the driving vision test were able to requalify for driving based on a vision exam after treatment, compared to only about one in 10 in the control group.
The data were presented Nov. 10 at a meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in New Orleans.
"The study needs to be completed before we can draw final conclusions about the safety and effectiveness of this treatment," said Dr. Jose Pulido, head of ophthalmology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and one of the study's principal investigators. "But the results to date, while preliminary, are statistically significant and give us hope."
Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss and acquired legal blindness in Western industrial societies in persons over age 60. It affects as many as 15 million people in the United States.
The National Eye Institute recently released data showing that high doses of antioxidants, vitamins and zinc can help slow the disease's progression. However, no effective treatment currently exists for patients with the "dry" form of age-related macular degeneration, which affects 90 percent of patients with the disease. The remaining 10 percent suffer from the more severe "wet" form.
Filtration apheresis grew out of recent evidence indicating that age-related macular degeneration may be associated with elevated levels of certain high-molecular-weight blood components like fibrinogen, LDL cholesterol and other proteins that can interfere with blood flow and vascular health. The treatment removes these components.
The procedure has been studied in European trials, showing improved vision and retinal functioning, but those trials involved small numbers of patients, and subjects were not randomly assigned to control and treatment groups. In the current trial, researchers will enroll 180 patients at nine research centers across the country, including UIC.
OccuLogix Corporation (Palm Harbor, Fla.) is one of the study's sponsors. Asahi Medical Co. Ltd. (Tokyo) developed the filter system, called Rheopheresis®. While the technology has been approved for use in Germany and Canada, OccuLogix will be seeking U.S. approval from the Food and Drug Administration when the current trial is completed. Company officials believe the approval process could take another 18 to 24 months.
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