A new blood test is being developed at The Australian National University (ANU) which may detect patients at risk of dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and potentially save millions of people from going blind.
Lead researcher Dr Riccardo Natoli said the test was based on a light model he developed to better understand the deterioration of the retina's photoreceptor cells in the macula and could potentially detect the disease earlier.
"From our modelling we noticed an inflammatory response was happening as a consequence of the damage," said Dr Natoli. "We are focusing on early diagnosis and early treatment strategies that slow down the inflammatory response to see if we can slow the progression of the disease. By looking at these photoreceptor molecules in the macular and understanding how they function, we will be able to early predict or diagnose a patient that is having systemic inflammatory responses. Combined with predisposition genetic information, we hope to be able to predict people who are at high risk and start treating before the disease presentation even eventuates."
"The detection mechanisms we currently have for dry AMD happen too late," said Dr Natoli. "Once dry AMD starts there is a threshold tipping point and once a patient gets over that point there is nothing that can be done to save their sight. By the diagnosis stage, you look at the back of the eye and you already see that photoreceptors, the light sensing cells of the eye, are starting to die."
He added, "There are 200 million people around the world that suffer with AMD and our hope is to try and slow the progression of vision loss allowing more people in our global community to share in our wonderfully beautiful visual world."