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Genetic links could unlock clues to leading cause of blindness

e disease, and millions more are expected to develop it within the next 15 years.

The disease causes nodule-like specks to build up in the eye, chipping away central vision over time. But Dawson said most people don't even realize something is wrong until they detect changes in their vision. The disease can be controlled, but there is no known way to reverse the vision loss it causes.

Knowing more about the earliest predictors of macular degeneration could help doctors treat the disease before extensive vision loss occurs and may even prevent it in some people. The early risks associated with macular degeneration have been difficult for researchers to study in humans, and as a result, doctors know little about this aspect of the disease, Dawson said.

"It's difficult to follow closely the aging of a human over a specific period of time," he said. "People wouldn't tolerate a controlled (living) environment for weeks and years."

One of the biggest problems researchers have faced is determining how much of a role genetics plays versus lifestyle and environmental factors such as blue light, part of the spectrum of natural visible light. Frequent exposure to blue light rays has been linked to macular degeneration. If the disease is going to be treated early, Dawson said researchers must know the significance of these factors.

Aside from studying early environmental risks, the next step for researchers is to map the specific genes at work, said Dawson, who worked on the study with German geneticist Jorg Schmidtke. But because more than one gene is likely involved, this task will not be easy, Dawson said.

Dr. Johanna M. Seddon, a Harvard Medical School associate professor and director of the epidemiology unit of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, said studies conducted on 840 human twins have shown that genetics plays a significant role but not the only role. Even diet plays a big part, she said. Her own research with th
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Source:University of Florida


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