New research gives hope to those at high risk for vision loss due to age-related macular degeneration. A study from the University of Southampton has found that the signs of macular degeneration can set in earlier than previously thought, which could mean treatments to help slow the onset of the disease.
The study looked at the records of over 30,000 patients who had retinal scans and genetic data stored in the UK Biobank. Scientists compared the retinal measurements of 34 genetic risk factors for macular degeneration to those without risk factors.
Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the study’s conclusion showed that participants with healthy eyes and no history of macular degeneration had a thinner retina if they carried the genes that put them at risk.
Previous research into macular degeneration had not explained which cells in the eyes were affected by the disease first. This study is the first to examine the retinal scans that showed thinner photoreceptors in patients with genetic risk factors.
Researchers believe this new information gives them a better understanding of the early stages of macular degeneration and can help them identify which cells should be targeted in further research.
Currently, most treatments for macular degeneration only start when patients start to have severe problems with their eyesight. With this new information, treatments may become available for those with no symptoms but who are at a higher risk for sight loss in the future.
Macular degeneration is the most common cause of sight loss in the Western world. With further research on the condition, researchers believe they may be able to detect patients at higher risk of vision loss earlier than previously thought. They suggest some simple lifestyle changes to help reduce the eye disease risk, including eating a Mediterranean diet, exercising, and quitting smoking.