Local News

Colon Cancer Drug May Be Helpful In Battle With Macular Degeneration

Posted April 7, 2006

— There are more treatment options for macular degeneration than there were just a few years ago. One man found help for his eyes with a drug approved to treat colon cancer.

Bill Uber is a lifetime gardener and bird watcher, but four years ago, watching anything grew more difficult.

"When you start to have diminished eye sight, it detracts a great deal from life's pleasures," he said.

Uber has macular degeneration. The macula is the central and most vital area of the retina at the back of the eye just under the optic disc. If abnormal blood vessels begin to form there, then leak, vision quickly deteriorates. It can become distorted or a large blind spot can form. Uber's former eye doctor said nothing could be done.

"Well, this is something you don't want to hear. And it's not something I would accept," he said.

Uber went to Duke's Eye Center, which offered experimental treatments. His right eye vision loss was beyond help, but there was hope for his left eye. Dr. Eric Postel tried an approved drug called Macugen. It helped, but it did not last.

"We tried another medication called Avastin," he said.

Avastin is commonly used to treat colon cancer. It targets the growth of new blood vessels that feed cancerous tumors. Abnormal blood vessel growth is also the problem with macular degeneration.

"By blocking that, you can theoretically cause those blood vessels to go away," Postel said.

"Miracles will happen. I've got 20/20 (vision) in my left eye," Uber said.

Uber said he believes if he got the treatment sooner before coming to Duke Eye Center, it might have saved his right eye.

"I don't know. They don't know, but it's something you've got to fight down to the last breath," he said.

There are things you can do to reduce your risk of macular degeneration. Studies show smoking or being around others who smoke plays a role in the disease. You can take vitamin supplements or a diet rich in beta carotene including green leafy vegetables.


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