Health Team

Genetic Link Found in Macular Degeneration

Posted April 24, 2007

Reseachers have found a genetic basis for determining how some people with macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over age 55, are able to retain some of their eyesight.

The macula is part of the retina that provides central vision. When it deteriorates, a growing dark spot impairs vision.

About one-quarter of people over age 75 lose their vision because of macular degeneration. But not everyone with the disease loses vision.

A study of about 1,500 patients over six years revealed risk factors that lead to actual vision loss. The results appear in the new Journal of the American Medical Association.

"We studied whether genetic and environmental factors are related to whether someone with this eye disease progresses to where they can no longer see other people's faces," said Dr. Johanna Seddon of the Tufts New England Medical Center. "Common variations in two genes predict whether macular degeneration progresses to the advanced stages in visual loss."

The risk of vision loss increases seven-fold if one or both of the genes has an abnormality. If someone has other risk factors, such as smoking or being overweight, on top of the gene abnormality, their risk increases 19 times.

Harry Meyer, who learned 10 years ago that he had macular degeneration, has never smoked and isn't overweight. But his grandfather lost his vision as he aged.

Medical treatment, good nutrition and exercise has preserved much of Meyer's vision.

"I can still read newsprint in the newspaper, and that's my main measure of success," he said.

Seddon said she believes identifying the genes linked to macular degeneration will eventually lead to new ways of treating and preventing the disease. But that might be many years away, she said.


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  • Low Voltage Apr 26, 2007

    Best of luck to you littlegramma, my m-n-law is doing fairly well. She was diagnosed 30-35 years ago and she can see everything except the "center focus", she says it's a "fuzzy spot". She watches TV and gets around just fine for someone 84 years old.

  • littlegramma Apr 26, 2007

    I was diagnosed with a form this at age 48, so far things are going well, but I must admit it is a bit unsettling. I've been told that mine isn't the type that will make me loose all my sight, but I do have some blind spots in that eye. I sure hope the doctor is right! And hope they can find a real cure for this "fun" disease, or at least a way to prevent it.

  • Low Voltage Apr 25, 2007

    My Mother-n-Law has it, age 84.

  • jetset Apr 24, 2007

    This would be fantastic news. I know alot of elderly people who suffer from this disease. It is very sad. I pray they can find a cure.