Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness for those over the age of 60. While there are some treatments which can help reduce the progression of the disease, there is currently no cure. But there is hope. Israeli researchers are leading the way in developing a stem-cell therapy which could potentially save the sight of millions of people worldwide.
What is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration affects the central portion of the retina. It is most common in people over the age of 60. This is why it is often called age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
There are two types of AMD: what is known as the “dry form” and the “wet form”. Vision is not affected in the early stages of the disease.. As the disease progresses, it causes blurred vision. People can loose their central vision completely if the disease continues to worsen. Patients are usually able to retain their peripheral vision, as AMD affects only the central part of the retina.
Dry and Wet Forms of Macular Degeneration
The dry form of AMD is when there are yellow deposits on the macula. A few deposits may not affect vision, but they can grow in both size and number. Patients may experience blind spots in their vision. Some patients may lose central vision altogether in the more advanced stages.
The wet form happens when there is an abnormal growth of blood vessels under the macula. The blood vessels leak fluid and blood into the retina, and this causes blurred vision and blind spots. It can also make straight lines look wavy. Once they form a scar, a patient will experience permanent vision loss.
Only about 10% of people with AMD develop the wet form, but these people make up the majority of those who suffer from serious vision loss due to the disease.
Macular degeneration affects approximately 10 million Americans. It’s the leading cause of blindness, and it affects more people than cataracts and glaucoma together. Symptoms include blurred vision, decreased quality of vision, dark blurry areas in the center and diminished color perception. This is different to glaucoma in that glaucoma affects peripheral vision whereas AMD affects central vision. Cataracts, on the other hand, leads to poor night vision, problems with light and faded colors.
What causes AMD?
As the name suggests, age is the leading risk factor for macular degeneration. Unfortunately, the disease is not well understood, and the causes of AMD are not conclusively known. Scientists are working to understand why macula cells deteriorate. People with a family history of AMD are at much higher risk, as it is hereditary. Caucasians are also more at risk than African Americans and Hispanics.
In 2010, 2.5% of white adults over 50 had AMD, while only 0.9% of black adults and people of other races had it.
Smoking also doubles your risk of developing AMD.
There is unfortunately no cure for AMD, but there are several treatments which can prevent severe vision loss, including medications, laser therapy, vision aids, and surgery.
Israeli scientists in Jerusalem have taken their stem-cell therapy for AMD to clinical trials. It has been tested on patients with advanced AMD in the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem and has won fast track approval for further trials in America. Currently, scientists are looking for more volunteers for clinical trials. The commercialization of this therapy will depend on its success as well as financing.
Another Israeli solution for AMD is the ForeseeHome which is an FDA-approved home monitoring device. It detects changes in vision that might indicate if the disease is progressing from the dry to the wet form.