Study uses new tools to investigate major cause of blindness in older adults

Key Takeaways

  • Using a set of new tools, researchers have acquired the most comprehensive data to date on the composition of subretinal drusenoid deposits (SDD), which are associated with early AMD.
  • The development of these tools will potentially allow researchers to identify additional molecular pathways critical to the development of AMD.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common disease of aging and a leading cause of blindness in older adults, although blindness can be prevented if AMD is treated early. Advanced AMD is treatable only in about 15% of cases by injecting medications directly into the eye, which is burdensome and expensive for patients and their families. Developing prevention or early detection tools could greatly improve the chances of avoiding advanced disease and would help AMD patients maintain quality of life for longer.

A multinational team of researchers has developed new protocols to study which molecular pathways might be important in the aging retina and what might cause the formation of deposits in the eye that confer high risk for AMD. The team focused on a type of deposit found in the eyes of patients with AMD called subretinal drusenoid deposits, or SDD. The presence of SDD in eyes, although indicative of an early stage of AMD development, may affect the outcomes of treatments if not properly diagnosed.

The study provides the first and most comprehensive data to date about the composition of SDD and resulted in the identification of a salient component: lysolipids, specialized molecules important for the synthesis and breakdown of cell membranes of retinal cells such as photoreceptors (the cells that initiate vision). Additional studies showed morphological details of the smallest and earliest lesions and identified an enzyme important in the formation of the lysolipids.

In addition to providing clues about SDD formation and function, the development of these protocols will allow the investigators—and others around the world—to probe SDD and other retinal lesions and potentially identify additional molecular pathways critical to the development of AMD. A paper describing the new methods and results was published in the journal Frontiers in Ophthalmology.

Source: Lorena Infante Lara, Vanderbilt University, Medical Xpress, January 4, 2024; see source article