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Link between iron overload and macular degeneration under study
Date:6/24/2010

es sent to the brain via the optic nerve. This is despite multiple built-in safeguards such as filters in the cornea and lens that protect against the most harmful rays, like ultraviolet light, and a yellow pigment that provides extra protection for the most central point of vision. Retinal pigmented epithelial cells, which nourish sight-enabling cells in the retina, help gobble up and dump any resulting tissue trash into the circulation for elimination. Leftovers show up as fatty, yellow deposits called drusen.

Everyone experiences some age-related vision changes and accumulation of harmless levels of drusen, Nussbaum said.

But when byproducts start accumulating under the retinal pigment epithelium, the risk increases for the wet form of macular degeneration in which fragile new blood vessels grow underneath the retina, leak and cloud vision. The question is why some people's condition worsens.

"We see it in one patient and it may stay that way for 20 years. We see it in another patient and within five years their vision has functionally started to decrease," said Dr. Emory Patterson, an MCG School of Medicine graduate completing his ophthalmology residency at MCG who is helping with the clinical study.

Ganapathy first determined that the eye had the means to tightly regulate iron levels. Most organs don't have their own system rather the small intestine regulates absorption of the iron consumed in foods like beans and tofu.

But Ganapathy found the same genetic mutation that causes hemochromatosis in a back layer of the retina, which comes in contact with the blood. A mutation in this HFE gene impairs a protein that regulates iron absorption. The finding in the mouse eye and human retinal pigmented epithelial cells was published in 2004 in Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science.

His lab now has animal models for hemochromatosis as well as juvenile hemochromatosis, which is caused by a differe
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Contact: Toni Baker
tbaker@mcg.edu
706-721-4421
Medical College of Georgia
Source:Eurekalert  

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