Are there cures for macular degeneration? We have discussed the macular dystrophy definition and have talked about macular degeneration symptoms and macular disease types, including wet age related macular degeneration (wet AMD) and dry age related macular degeneration (dry AMD).
Now onto the possible cures for AMD and onto possible juvenile macular degeneration treatment. The developments in laser technologies as well as in genetics and cell biology are bringing with them incredible developments that are currently curing eye diseases in some patients with macular degeneration and are promising that, in the very near future, will bring the cure to many more patients that would otherwise go blind.
The possible cure for age-related macular degeneration could not come at a time when it is more needed - it is expected that over the next two decades, the number of people with age-related macular degeneration will exceed six million people.
Considering the similarities of symptoms between the dry AMD and juvenile macular dystrophy, chances are that some of the cures for dry AMD will be applicable to curing juvenile macular degeneration as well.
The most successful wet AMD cures and treatments
Photodynamic therapy as wet age related macular degeneration treatment
Wet AMD, which is occuring in 10% of the AMD cases, is also termed exudative type age-related macular dystrophy. The aim in wet AMD cures or treatments is to seal the blood vessels that penetrate through the "RPE" layer in the retina and begin to affect and destroy the light receptors.
As of today, there is no definitive cure for wet AMD but there is successful age related macular degeneration therapy called photodymamic therapy, or PTD, using Visudyne. PDT technique consists of a drug injection into the patient's body, and, after a short while, activating the drug in just the selected area of the retina where the wet AMD is using a low-powered, non-thermal laser. The acivated drug selectively seals the leaking capillaries, while it leaves the healthy capillaries intact. That way the leaks do not form and the progression of the wet AMD is halted.
Photodynamic, PDT technique, is a huge improvement over older macular degeneration surgery techniques where the blood vessels were "burned" using a high powered laser through the eye.
However, the Visudyne technique is a treatment rather than a cure and, for the most part, its effects seem to last perhaps a year, perhaps more than a year, and the application must be repeated.
With this PDT technique, the rate of vision loss is halted or slowed down, but not reversed.
Drugs that slow down growth of capillaries in the retina
A special protein was found in the retina that speeds up growth of unwanted capillaries. The protein was named VEGF. Drugs that prevent this protein from operating are now available. They are Macugen, Lucentis, and Avastin, collectively termed VEGF inhibitors. They must be injected into the eye directly, which can cause serious side effects such as increased eye pressure, eye infections, and retinal detachment.
However, the successful injection has been shown to slow the progression of the wet AMD disease, and even reverse it to the degree, especially in patients where the wet AMD disease was diagnosed early.
Possible dry AMD cures and treatments
Dry AMD, also known as atrophic type age-related macular degeneration, affects 90% of the AMD patients. In dry AMD, "drusen" or deposits are formed under the protective RPE layer in the retina. These deposits push up the RPE layer, and can eventually disrupt it, which then helps destroy the macular light receptors, resulting in central vision loss. There are no wet AMD treatments available as of now. However, two very promising techniques, based on genetics, are possibly going to become available soon, the so called complement factor H method, and the stem cell method.
The complement factor H cure for dry age-related macular degeneration
In brief, an age-long quest led by Gregory Hageman which involved looking at the "drusen", or the unwanted deposits under the RPE layer in retina. Dr. Hageman found that a large percentage of the proteins in the "drusen" deposits originated in the "complement" part of the human immune system. In fact, 25% of "drusen" consisted of "complement factor H" protein. This "complement" part of the immune system is responsible for protecting humans against unwanted bacteria, but can sometimes cause damage to healthy human cells when it is not controlled properly.
It turns out that "complement factor H" is the protein that controls the "complement" part of the immune system.
A very strong correlation was found between the gene variations in complement factor H genes and the onset of the dry AMD disease.
The thinking goes that these genetic anomalies would lead to an anomalous complement factor H protein that would not properly control the complement cascade in the immune system, which would then cause the unwanted sub-retinal deposits and dry age-related macular degeneration.
Currently, the company called Optherion, with the aim to create a drug which would create "correct" versions of complement factor H protein, which would "fix" the complement part of the immune system, thereby treating the dry AMD problem.
Possible treatment for juvenile macular dystrophy, or Stargardt disease
There is currently two promising treatments in the works for Stargardt disease, the gene therapy, and the stem cell based treatments.
Gene therapy treatment of Stargardt disease
Gene therapy involves delivery of the corrected version of the faulty gene into cells, where they replicate and eventually replace the faulty genes in human body. Since Stargardt disease is linked to a mutation of the "ABCR" gene, this technology may lead to success. The company that is working on this currently incurable disease treatment is Oxford Biomedica, and the technology is named StarGen.
Stem cell based treatment for the juvenile macular degeneration
The company Advanced Cell Technology has recently received FDA clearance for initial clinical trials to use stem cells to treat macular degeneration. Stem cell technology uses undifferentiated (non-specialized) stem cells, and develops them into the RPE cells which are then surgically implanted in place of damaged or destroyed RPE cells. This could provide lasting treatment, even regaining of vision in Stargardt disease patients.
What to do right now?
If you are a person whose sight has deteriorated, and are showing any of the symptoms of the above mentioned macular diseases, we suggest that you consult with a qualified eye doctor regarding available and upcoming treatments. Since there are significant genetic components to all macular degeneration diseases, it makes sense to get yourself tested for the genes mentioned above for anomalies that are related to macular diseases. Then follow up the activities involving the above mentioned companies and follow the developments in these companies that pertain to macular degeneration treatments very closely.
If you are forced to live with low vision, then there are several options available that will improve your vision. For example, handheld portable electronic CCTV magnifier, Eschenbach glasses for macular degeneration (like these: Eschenbach MaxDetail 2X Glasses for Near) macular degeneration glasses will expand your vision such that the macular area will lose its predominance and you will be able to use more of the peripheral vision. You could start taking advantage of illuminated hand help magnifiers. And you could get an exhaustive book on macular degeneration disease such as Low Vision: Principles and Practice that would help you with more details on how to live with low vision. Also, you could help your vision by consuming macular degeneration supplements such as the Macular Degeneration Vitamin Formula by National Eye Institute.