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Macular degeneration incidence declining, new treatments studied

Dry Macular Degeneration is the number one cause of vision loss in Americans over age 65, according to Dr. John Henahan of Spectrum Eyecare in Peachtree City.  

“When I was director of low vision services at LSU Eye Center (in New Orleans), macular degeneration was the main cause of vision impairment in more than 90 percent of my patients.”  The condition afflicts 10 to 15 million Americans.

Just this week, the New York Times reported that “scientists at the National Eye Institute predicted that as the population aged, the rate of macular degeneration, would increase substantially.” However, “an analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey has found that since the 1994 survey, the prevalence of the disease has decreased more than nine percent.” Researchers theorize “that the change was caused by reductions in smoking and improvements in diet, physical activity, and blood pressure.” The analysis is published in the January issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology.

According to Dr. Henahan, other studies have suggested the use of UV protective sunglasses, fish oil, lutein and a multivitamin as key to preventive efforts. Additionally, smoking is a major risk factor for macular degeneration; so smoking cessation should be a top priority. Finally, regular eye exams that include a dilated retinal evaluation are critical, especially for patients over the age of 45.

To date, dry macular degeneration has been untreatable, so prevention is the primary focus. Perhaps that will change with cell therapy. Bloomberg News reports “Advanced Cell Technology Inc. (ACT) is to test a therapy made from stem cells in patients with” age-related “macular degeneration (AMD). “Doctors will inject retinal cells made from stem cells into the eyes of 12 people with the dry form of macular degeneration.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that the “Phase I/II trial...would primarily test the safety of the cells and whether they are well-tolerated by patients.” Researchers “hope that these patients can be helped by the company’s retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells, which would theoretically replace the ones that have been destroyed by the disease. The RPE cells have restored vision in animals with a version of the disease.”

The Worcester Telegram reported that “the trial is the second human study for” ACT. Back “in November, the company received approval from the Food and Drug Administration to test its cells in patients with Stargardt’s Disease, a form of juvenile macular degeneration.”

If you or a family member are at risk for AMD, contact Spectrum Eyecare and Dr. Henahan in Peachtree City at 770-487-0667 for a complete eye examination.  They will take the time to thoroughly examine your eyes and discuss the best ways to ensure a lifetime of healthy vision.

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