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Discovery gives hope for macular degeneration treatment

Researcher Brad Gelfand in his lab
Dan Addison

Researchers led by assistant professor Brad Gelfand (Engr ’09) of UVA’s Center for Advanced Vision Science have found unexpected evidence of an apparent link between the two main forms of age-related macular degeneration, which could help lead toward the development of a treatment for the condition.

In its advanced stage, AMD is a leading cause of vision loss worldwide in adults over 60; it presents in both the far more common, but untreatable, “dry” form and a “wet” form for which treatment requires receiving regular injections in the eye. But in some individuals, these conditions can overlap, with the dry form in one eye and wet in the other, or even occur sequentially or simultaneously in the same eye.

Gelfand’s study, which was conducted in mice, found that the deficiency of an enzyme known as DICER1 appeared to play a role in both forms. The researchers were successful in using gene therapy to restore DICER1 in mice, but Gelfand notes that more work will be required to determine how these findings might apply in human cases. Nevertheless, these advances may help point the way toward developing a treatment for AMD.