The most common – and under-diagnosed – genetic disease in humans just may be a cause of the worst form of macular degeneration, Medical College of Georgia researchers report.
They are pursuing a link between hemochromatosis, which results in iron overload, and the wet form of macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people 60 and older. They suspect that too much iron, known to wreak cumulative havoc on the body’s organs, hastens normal aging of the eyes.
If they are correct, avoiding the most severe consequences of a disease that robs the central vision could be as simple as donating blood a couple times annually to reduce iron levels, said Dr. Vadivel Ganapathy, chairman of the MCG School of Medicine Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
A $1.5 million grant from the National Eye Institute is enabling the MCG scientists to define the impact of hemochromatosis on the eye’s form and function. Support from MCG’s Vision Discovery Institute is enabling screening for its causative genetic mutation in the blood of healthy individuals and those with macular degeneration.