Scientists Find Genes Tied to Vision Loss

Loss of vision as we age is often a result of macular degeneration (AMD), and a new study may have found its genetic roots.

AMD is a progressive eye disease that damages the macula - the small area of the retina that is needed for sharp, central vision. As the condition progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to do everyday things like read, write, drive and recognize faces.

Researchers analyzed the genetic data from 43,566 people of predominantly European descent and found 52 common and rare variants linked to AMD. Their findings could improve our understanding of the biology of AMD and help develop new drugs for the disease, which destroys retinal photoreceptors -- the light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye.

Before the new study, published in the journal Nature Genetics, scientists knew of 21 regions of the genome that contain sequences of DNA whose variations affect the risk of developing AMD. The new research significantly expands the number of genetic factors involved, bringing that number to 34. The researchers also discovered -- for the first time -- a variant that may explain why drugs for an advanced form of the disease don’t work for all patients.

The findings may help improve the understanding of the biological processes that lead to AMD and identify new targets for potential drug development.

The risk of developing AMD depends on a combination of genes, environment and lifestyle. Studies show that smoking raises the risk, while eating leafy green vegetables and some types of fish -- including tuna, halibut and salmon -- reduces the risk.

According to the National Eye Institute, the number of Americans with AMD is expected to more than double by 2050.

Don't miss this week's Slice of History: The 1st Octuplets

Sourced from: Medical News Today, Macular degeneration gets a boost from large gene study