Many people say vision is their most treasured sense, which is why we do so much to enhance or protect it with sunglasses, contact lenses, prescription glasses, lasik eye surgery, and any number of other methods. Yet, the aging process can bring certain developments completely out of our control, which is a big reason why regular eye exams are so important.
Age-related macular degeneration is a major concern for both doctors and patients. Researchers may have found a way to help — using eye drops. According to scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine, eye drops that reduce cholesterol can directly contribute to reducing the growth of blood vessels in the eye, when tested on animals.
According to the study, these eye drops can help with both the wet and dry forms of macular degeneration.
Dry macular degeneration is, by far, the most common form, occurring in up to 90% of those suffering age-related macular degeneration. Also known as atrophic AMD, no one is sure what causes it to occur. It develops slowly, and has no treatment or cure once it begins to progress.
Small deposits, called drusen, begin to develop on the retina, in the area called the macula. The macula gives you clear central vision. These drusen begin to cluster on the retina, reducing its effectiveness. At first, they have no affect on vision, but over time, as they accumulate, they can contribute greatly to vision loss.
Wet macular degeneration is a different case. It involves the sudden rapid growth of new blood vessels under the macula. These blood vessels are not natural, and not as strong as the blood vessels that normally grow in the eye. They tend to break and bleed, causing the macula to detach, damaging photoreceptor cells, which causes loss of central vision.
Wet AMD is usually treated through reducing levels of a protein that induces abnormal blood vessel growth, which can only be administered directly through injections into the eye. This, of course, involves anesthesia and regular visits to a skilled physician.
The development of a drug used to prevent the build-up of cholesterol in the heart could be a big breakthrough for those facing age-related macular degeneration, as well. Unlike the current treatment, this drug could be applied topically, via eye drops, rather than through injection.
Researchers believe they have found a link between the buildup of cholesterol and macular degeneration. When cholesterol builds up in white blood cells, it promotes the development of new blood vessels, especially in the eye, where everything is already in delicate balance. The overcrowding of these vessels and the scarring it causes when they rupture may all be preventable, once this drug is perfected and improved.
Drugs that reduce cholesterol in mice prevented the over-development of white blood cells, which reduced blood vessel growth. Researchers believe using more than one of these drugs at a time may be even more effective. Eventually, these medications may be used to stop macular degeneration before it even begins. Since the disease is often hereditary, those at greater risk can be given the eyedrops to prevent AMD from developing in the first place, or arrest it in the early stages.
These developments are a number of years from being fully developed for human use. Currently, no eyedrop treatment is available for those who are fighting macular degeneration. This major potential breakthrough, however, has the potential to change the way we solve the problem of macular degeneration forever.