Researchers in London have made a breakthrough in the treatment of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) that could also benefit patients with other eye disorders. They have discovered that eye drops could replace dreaded eye injections used to treat wet AMD.
Using animal models, scientists from the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London were able to deliver the AMD drug Avastin via nanoparticles to the back of the eye, Medical News Today reports. They published their findings in the nanotechnology journal Small.
AMD is a progressive eye condition that strikes around 15 million U.S. adults, with 200,000 new cases every year, according to the Macular Degeneration Partnership. As many as 20 percent of those older than 75 suffer from this eye problem.
The University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center describes macular degeneration as a breakdown of or damage to the macula of the eye, a portion located at the back of the organ and one that makes it possible to see fine details and perform actions like threading a needle. Patients suffer from one of two types of AMD: dry or wet.
Although healthcare providers advise those with dry AMD to take certain vitamin supplements, no treatment stops the progression of this type of the disorder. A common treatment for wet AMD, the more serious form, is tiny, periodic injections of a drug into the eye. The drugs used inhibit the development of abnormal blood vessels and leakage from them to slow progression of the disorder.
Professor Francesca Cordeiro, lead author of the findings of the London study, says the development of safe, effective eye drops would be a huge milestone for patients who now receive eye injections for AMD and other eye disorders. She adds that most patients consider the injections uncomfortable and actually detest the treatments, some of which occur for 24 consecutive months.
The injections are also very expensive and carry a risk of bleeding and infection that rises with repeated administration. More than 1 million U.S. patients received ocular injections in 2010.
To treat wet AMD, health professionals must surmount a number of anatomical barriers to get medication to the retina of the eye. Prior to the U.K. research, they assumed that molecules of Avastin and Lucentis, a second AMD drug, were too big for eye drops to carry to that area.
Since the findings suggest that all components of the treatment are safe, the researchers say they could quickly move to human trials once funding is available. Given the graying of the U.S. population and the steadily increasing number of patients with AMD, their findings could be a breakthrough for a significant number of individuals.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.