Posted on Oct 08, 2020, 1 p.m.
The loss of vision at any age is a scary thought, and while it tends to strike older adults there are many causes of vision problems that can occur throughout life, even shortly after just entering this world at birth.
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has made a potentially groundbreaking discovery that may help to reverse vision loss in patients of all ages as the researchers from the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation suggest to have found an off switch that relieves the blood vessel buildup around poor functioning eyes.
“Potentially, even patients with advanced disease progression could see their fortunes turned around,” says study senior author Courtney Griffin, Ph.D.
According to the researchers, many eye disorders start with blood vessels growing out of control in the retina which is the tissue that lines the back of the eye, and when a cluster of blood vessels block light from reaching the retina we are not able to see. Retinopathy, overgrowth, can cause vision problems that will continue to worsen until the patient becomes totally blind.
Retinopathy has various forms and causes that will affect different age groups; premature babies for example can be affected by the high oxygen level in hospital incubators which can interrupt normal vessel development in the eye. Those with diabetes may be affected with diabetic retinopathy which can occur when blood sugar levels are out of balance and cause new blood vessels to grow which may not develop well and leak into the retina. In either case, the damage can progress so far that it becomes irreversible.
According to the CDC, at least 3.4 million Americans over the age of 40 are blind or visually impaired. The researchers suggest that certain proteins may be the key to healthy blood flow to the eyes and suspected that there might be clues hidden in the blood vessels which naturally fade away soon after being born.
“Dr. Schafer hypothesized that these cellular proteins might be an important ‘off switch’ to eliminate these vessels in a neonatal model,” Dr. Griffin explains. “This is a new way of approaching these diseases. The current methods — invasive surgeries or life-long injections into the eye — only prevent the disease from advancing and often have serious complications.”
Co-author Dr. Chris Schafer found that certain cellular proteins crash when young mice begin to experience normal blood flow to their eyes and identified an experimental compound that can shut down these proteins to flip the switch on blood vessel growth.
“We wanted to trick blood vessels in diseased mice into thinking they were supposed to be regressing and naturally dying off,” Schafer adds. “This appears to be what happened.”
According to the researchers, the compound did not affect normal blood vessels that are needed by the eye while reversing abnormal vessel growth and their findings may lead to new vision therapies that target a patient’s specific eye disorder. It was noted that this procedure may also help to shrink blood vessels that are found in tumours throughout the body. The team is now focussed on studying the compound’s impact on adult eye diseases.
“We’ve shown that once these abnormal vessels have formed in the young eye, they’re susceptible to being treated,” Griffin concludes. “More research is needed, but this could be a major advance in treatment for vision loss in patients of all ages.”
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