(RxWiki News) Researchers have found that a key part of the immune system is linked to developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), one of the most common causes of blindness.
The progressive eye disease is associated with inflammasome, a part of the immune system involved with regulating the development of AMD.
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Matthew Campbell, PhD, a professor in the Ocular Genetics Unit at the Trinity College Dublin's Smurfit Institute of Genetics in Ireland, noted that traditionally inflammation in the retina is not beneficial.
However, scientists identified an inflammatory component called IL-18 that can prevent the progression of wet AMD. In the "wet" form of the disease, blood vessels under the retina grow, causing central blindness.
During the research researchers utilized pre-clinical models of the disease and isolated drusen from donor AMD eyes. Drusen, a key to diagnosing AMD, is recognized as yellowish-white deposits in the macula, the central region of the retina.
The dry form of the disease, which may later progress to wet AMD, is characterized by excessive amounts of drusen.
The investigators found that the accumulation of drusen in the macula can lead to the production of two inflammatory components called IL-1beta and IL-18. They also found that the common progression from dry to wet AMD appears to be mediated by IL-18.
Investigators said the finding suggested that controlling or augmenting levels of IL-18 in patients with dry AMD may be able to prevent the development of the wet form of the disease.
Dr. Christopher Quinn, an optometrist with Omni Eye Associates, said the discovery could be an important finding in better understanding the basic pathology of AMD.
"Understanding the pathology is the key to developing new treatments that can potentially modulate the pathologic process," Dr. Quinn said. "It certainly adds to our understanding of the basic science of AMD and, if confirmed, will be useful to other scientists to further unravel the cause and treatment of AMD.
The research, funded by Science Foundation Ireland, the American Health Assistance Foundation, the Health Research Board and Fighting Blindness Ireland, was recently published in journal Nature Medicine.