Scientists make major breakthrough in Age-Related Macular Degeneration therapy

Expression of the tight junction protein Zonula-occludens-1 (ZO-1) in primary human retinal pigment epithelial cells. Credit: Matthew Campbell/Arvydas Maminishkis

Scientists at Trinity College Dublin have made a major breakthrough with important implications for sufferers of the eye disease Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), which can cause central blindness in sufferers.

The scientists found that a component of the immune system, 'IL-18', acts as a guardian of eyesight by suppressing the production of damaging behind the retina at the back of the eye. In addition, in pre-clinical models, it was shown that 'IL-18' can be administered in a non-invasive way, which could represent a major improvement on the current therapeutic options that are open to patients.

"We were initially concerned that IL-18 might cause damage to the sensitive cells of the retina, because it is typically linked to inflammation. But surprisingly we found that low doses had no on the retina and yet still suppressed growth," said Assistant Professor in Immunology at Trinity, Sarah Doyle, who is the first author on the paper.

AMD is one of the most common forms of blindness in the aging population. The disease involves a loss of central vision, such that people suffering at advanced stages are unable to read, watch TV, drive, or use computers.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Animation describing age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Credit: Science

There are two forms of AMD: 'dry' and 'wet'. Dry AMD accounts for the majority of cases, but wet AMD causes over 90% of blindness associated with the disease. In wet AMD, blood vessels underneath the retina begin to grow abnormally, which causes almost immediate central . Because central vision accounts for almost all of our daytime visual acuity, wet AMD sufferers experience severe and profound day-to-day challenges.

Treatment options for wet AMD are currently limited to the end stages of the disease. Regular injections of antibodies must be made directly into the eye to mop up a problematic molecule termed 'VEGF'. However, the Trinity scientists found that IL-18 directly inhibits VEGF production, and that it can work as effectively as the current treatment when administered via a non-invasive intravenous injection in pre-clinical settings.

"Our findings have highlighted the power of industry-academic collaborations, the results of which should lead to clinical deployment of IL-18 as a treatment for AMD in the short term," added Research Assistant Professor in Genetics at Trinity, Matthew Campbell.

The research, published online this week in the high-profile international journal, Science Translational Medicine, was supported by Enterprise Ireland (EI), Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the US-based charity Brightfocus Foundation, and major pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

Vice President of Ophthalmology at GSK, Dr Pete Adamson, said: "A greater understanding of the molecular complexity of diseases such as AMD is critical to the development of new medicines."

More information: "IL-18 Attenuates Experimental Choroidal Nascularization as a Potential Therapy for Wet Age-Related Macular Degeneration," by S.L. Doyle et al. Science Translational Medicine, 2014.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Miniature pump regulates internal ocular pressure

date Jul 01, 2015

Elevated or diminished eye pressure impairs our ability to see, and in the worst cases, can even lead to blindness. Until now, there has been no effective long-term treatment. In response, Fraunhofer researchers are developing ...

Closing the Australian eye health gap may be in sight

date Jun 30, 2015

Three years after the launch of the roadmap to close the gap for vision, progress has been made but "much remains to be done", according to the authors of a Perspective published online today by the Medical Jo ...

Pioneering gene therapy takes aim at inherited blindness

date Jun 29, 2015

Canada's first human gene therapy trial for eyes—the replacement of a faulty gene with a healthy one—is now underway at the Royal Alexandra Hospital to preserve and potentially restore vision for people ...

Iris research focuses on blood vessel patterns

date Jun 29, 2015

The structure of the microvasculature or blood vessels in the iris could play an important role in people's contraction of eye maladies like glaucoma and cataract, according to a WA-led study.

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

tpq
Apr 03, 2014
Very good that this is verified by Doyle's group. Another academic-industrial partnership (Johns Hopkins / Genentech) reported by Shen et al in Aging Cell earlier this year doi:[10.1002/jcp.24575] seems to show this effect as well, although Doyle shows a systemic application to be effective while Shen administered IL-18 into the eye. Congratulations to both for a very significant find for this debilitating condition

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.