Discovery suggests new way to prevent common causes of vision loss

Harmful blood vessel growth in the eye is associated with a variety of blinding conditions such as neovascular (wet) AMD, retinopathy of prematurity, proliferative diabetic retinopathy and ischemic retinal vein occlusion. Scientists have known that abnormal vessel overgrowth in the eye is fueled by excessive amounts of a substance called vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF, that plays an important role in blood vessel formation. There are now treatments available that target VEGF to prevent vessel overgrowth, and they often provide dramatic benefits at first. Unfortunately, these benefits can fade with time. That leaves doctors in need of better treatments to help preserve patients’ eyesight. 

In new research, UVA Health scientists have discovered a new target to prevent the formation of abnormal tangles of blood vessels. Jayakrishna Ambati, MD, Shao-bin Wang, PhD, and their colleagues identified a key protein that determines VEGF levels. Blocking this protein in lab mice reduced their VEGF levels significantly, and it did so in a targeted way, without unwanted side effects. The scientists noted, for example, that they observed no toxic effects on the retina, the light-sensing portion of the eye where the vessel overgrowth occurs.  

In addition to identifying a promising target for the development of new treatments for vision loss, the discovery sheds important light on the fundamental mechanisms responsible for the blood vessel overgrowth that robs millions of people of their sight. While much more research and testing will be needed before the new finding could be translated into a treatment, the UVA scientists are excited about the potential of the discovery. 

ScienceDaily, February 24, 2023; see source article,  DOI: 10.1038/s41392-022-01277-4