New research from Boston Children’s Hospital could potentially change how doctors approach two blinding diseases: ‘Wet’ age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in the elderly, and macular telangiectasia (MacTel).
Both diseases are caused by abnormal growth of misshapen, leaky blood vessels in the eye’s retina. It’s widely believed this growth is triggered by oxygen deprivation. However, findings published Advance Online by Nature Medicine on March 14, 2016 suggest another cause: dysfunctional energy metabolism in the eye that starves the retina’s light receptors of fuel.
Based on their observations, senior investigator Lois Smith, MD, PhD, in Boston Children’s Department of Ophthalmology, believes it may be possible to use drugs to help photoreceptors take in nutrients, and that this could be a new avenue to treating diseases like AMD and MacTel.
Photoreceptors consume a surprising amount of fuel. “They have the highest concentration of mitochondria — the “furnace” of the cell — and use more energy than any other cell in the body,” Smith says.
Smith believes that fuel starvation contributes to age-related macular disease due not only through lack of fuel but also decreased energy efficiency in mitochondria as people age. She notes that abnormal lipid metabolism and mitochondrial dysfunction are both associated with aging and are important risk factors for AMD.
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