A number of new treatments for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a progressive eye disease, are under development. AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in the elderly.
Approximately 11 million Americans suffer from AMD, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine details. There are two types: wet and dry. Wet AMD is treated with eye injections every one to two months and dry AMD is treated with antioxidant vitamins, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
“While our current treatments have changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, new treatments offer hope to patients whose AMD could not previously be treated,” said retinal specialist Dr. Sunir Garg, the Academy’s clinical spokesperson.
“New treatments will also help patients get cheaper treatment than ever before,” he added in an academy press release.
While treatment with antioxidant vitamins can help reduce vision loss in many dry AMD patients, there is no treatment for those with late-stage disease. However, a number of promising clinical studies are ongoing.
This includes research on two drugs that target a part of the immune system that has long been identified as the main contributor to AMD.
The drugs that are injected directly into the eye have been shown to be safe in humans. According to the academy, results are expected in about a year on whether they will significantly improve eyesight.
The exchange of photoreceptor cells that begin to die in the late stages of dry AMD is also being studied. While early treatment is showing promise, there is still a long way to go before these stem cell therapies are ready for clinical use.
A major cause of wet AMD is vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which causes weak blood vessels to form that enter the retina.
Anti-VEGF injections appeared about 15 years ago to treat the disease. While clinical studies show that such treatment is more than 90% effective for severe vision loss, the real rate is closer to 50% because patients don’t get injections as often as they should, according to the academy. Most patients will need an injection every four to eight weeks.
One promising new method is a tiny, refillable drug reservoir that is surgically implanted in the eye just below the eyelid. The device is filled with a concentrated version of an anti-VEGF drug and delivers it to the fundus for an extended period of time.
Instead of an injection every six to eight weeks, patients may receive a refill once or twice a year. Research shows that many people treated this way have 15 months between treatments.
Gene therapies that allow the eyes to make their own anti-VEGF drugs are also being studied, according to the academy.
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