NEW EXPERIMENTAL TREATMENT FOR MACULAR DEGENERATION
UIC researchers are testing a new treatment for the most common form of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in people over 60 years of age.
The treatment, called filtration apheresis, involves removing high-molecular-weight compounds from the bloodstream. Scientific literature suggests that thinning the blood increases circulation to capillaries, the smallest blood vessels. This in turn may increase oxygen supply, cellular metabolism and the elimination of cellular waste products, possibly improving cell function. UIC researchers are testing to see what effects occur in the retina and whether vision improves.
"The retina is nourished by a network of tiny blood vessels, which are essential to its functioning," said Dr. Jose Pulido, head of ophthalmology, who is leading the study with Dr. Phillip DeChristopher, associate professor of clinical pathology. "The evidence suggests that the flow of nutrients is impaired in patients with age-related macular degeneration, resulting in loss of cellular functioning and a corresponding loss of vision."
"By reducing the amount of high-molecular-weight compounds in the bloodstream using filtration apheresis, we hope that at least some vision will be restored," said DeChristopher.
Age-related macular degeneration is a progressive disease of the retina, the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye. Vision is lost in the central area of the retina, called the macula, making it difficult to read, drive and perform other activities that require fine, sharp, straight-ahead vision. According to the National Eye Institute, macular degeneration afflicts about one in five people between the ages of 65 and 74.
Previous studies have shown some success with filtration apheresis. In one study involving 72 patients, for example, progression of the disease slowed in 43 percent of the participants. Twenty-eight percent were able to read one or two more lines on a standard eye chart, and 29 percent were able to read three more lines. However, the studies involved small numbers of patients and subjects were not randomly assigned to control and treatment groups. The present randomized trial to test the potential usefulness of the technique will involve 180 patients nationwide at nine research centers, including UIC.
No cure currently exists for age-related macular degeneration. Conventional treatment relies primarily on the use of laser therapy to seal ruptured or leaking blood vessels and to slow the development of new abnormal blood vessels in the wet form of macular degeneration. Although laser treatment may somewhat improve vision, it does not stop the progression of the disease. The present study will determine whether the dry form of age-related macular degeneration, the more common form, can be arrested.
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