Welcome to the June 2010 edition of At-A-Glance, Lighthouse International’s low vision newsletter.
Three New Genes Associated with Age-Related Macular Degeneration
A new study by the National Eye Institute (NEI) has identified three new genes associated with age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD, which is the most common cause of vision loss in people over the age of 60, destroys the macula, a cluster of light-sensitive cells in the central part of the retina. The macula allows for crisp central vision and the perception of fine detail.
The NEI study, which was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found the strongest AMD genetic association in a region on chromosome 22, near the gene metalloproteinase inhibitor 3 (TIMP3). Mutations in the TIMP3 gene are linked to Sorsby’s fundus dystrophy (SFD), an early form of macular degeneration.
The two other genes associated with AMD – human hepatic lipase (LIPC) and cholesterol ester transfer protein (CETP) - were found in the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol pathway. HDL is part of the lipoproteins family, which transport lipids such as cholesterol through the bloodstream. The study’s authors believe that early stages of AMD are affected by accumulation of oxidation products of cholesterol and other lipids in the retinal pigment epithelium.
“Very exciting news has been released on the discovery of three new genes that are associated with age-related macular degeneration,” says Dr. Bruce Rosenthal, Chief of Low Vision Programs at Lighthouse International. “Two of the genes are involved in the cholesterol pathway and may open the way for new treatments that lead to stabilizing, as well as improving vision in persons with the wet as well as the dry form of the disease. This is a very important step, since age-related macular degeneration accounts for 54 percent of the cases of legal blindness among white Americans.”
For more information on age-related macular degeneration (AMD), visit the Lighthouse International website.
Global Cost of Vision Loss Reaches $3 Trillion Dollars
AMD Alliance International (AMDAI) has just released the first estimate of the global cost of vision loss at nearly $3 trillion dollars for the 733 million people living with low vision and blindness worldwide. According to the study, these costs, which range from direct health care to lost productivity, will rise dramatically through 2020 unless improved prevention and treatment strategies are adopted.
“With continued population growth, we know these costs will spiral upwards and overburden global healthcare systems unless we take preventative action now,” said Dr. Penny Hartin, CEO of World Blind Union, in a news release. “This groundbreaking research gives us the tools we need for continued advocacy with the United Nations and governments.”
In order to decrease the global cost of vision loss, the AMDAI study suggests the following measures: frequent screening of the elderly and people with diabetes; increased training in cataract surgery for doctors in developing regions; greater availability of affordable eyewear; funding and distribution of medication to treat river blindness and trachoma in affected populations; and early treatment of childhood eye diseases.
Computer Technology Helps Diagnose Diabetic Retinopathy
A web-based technology called Telemedical Retinal Image Analysis and Diagnosis (TRIAD) is breaking barriers by allowing for a diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy to be completed in seconds as opposed to several days. The TRIAD technology uses a digital camera to take pictures of the retina. The patient’s medical data and retinal images are then sent to a server and processed through large databases in order to find similar images representing equivalent states of diabetic eye disease.
“With the TRIAD network, all of the computer diagnoses are sent to an ophthalmologist for review and sign-off of the computer-generated report, much like what is done for an EKG,” said Ken Tobin of Automated Medical Diagnostics (AMDx), a startup company that has licensed TRIAD.
With TRIAD, AMDx believes they can help doctors detect diabetic retinopathy in its earliest stage. “In the next 15 years, we will need to be able to screen more than 1 million patients every day worldwide in order to detect and manage vision loss and blindness due to diabetes,” said Edward Chum, Plough Foundation professor of retinal diseases at the UT Health Science Center, in a statement. “By using automated computer-assisted diagnostic methods like TRIAD and the connectivity of the Web through the world, this is an achievable goal.”
Carmakers Agree to Make Hybrids Noisier
People who are blind and visually impaired won a battle on Capitol Hill as automakers have agreed to create a new safety standard for electric and hybrid cars. The bill, which is moving through Congress, will require all electrically powered cars to emit a minimum sound when driving at low speeds. According to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), hybrid cars tend to hit pedestrians more often than other cars because they make no noise. The current proposal will have the NHTSA set a minimum noise level and determine which sounds will be permitted. The American Council for the Blind and the National Federation for the Blind were the lead proponents of adopting the new regulations into the Motor Safety Act of 2010 in order to ensure the safety of the blind and visually impaired community. Lighthouse International’s advocacy team works assiduously to help bills such as this get passed, raising the level of awareness and increasing the focus on low vision and blindness.