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Genetic links could unlock clues to leading cause of blindness

e National Eye Institute has shown that taking certain vitamins and minerals can reduce the risk of developing the disease by 25 percent over five years.

"With the increasing number of people living beyond the age of 85, it heightens the importance of this disease and the concern about (what will happen) if we don't come up with a better way to treat this," she said.

That's where Dawson thinks the monkeys can help. They age three to four times faster than humans, making it easier to track the progression of the disease. The monkeys also can remain in a controlled environment to test nongenetic factors, and their families can be studied more extensively.

Although most rhesus monkeys never show signs of macular degeneration, between 30 percent and 70 percent of the monkeys Dawson's team studied do. That's because these primates are the descendents of 50 monkeys brought to live on a Puerto Rican island just before World War II. The free-ranging monkeys on the island have multiplied to near 1,500, but because the rhesus monkeys are not native to the area, they could mate only with each other. This inbreeding has predisposed the monkeys to various genetic diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration.

Unlike most other animals, a rhesus monkey's eyes have the same complex structure as a human eye, making them a model study subject. They're so similar, he said he sometimes slips images of rhesus monkey eyes into presentations for medical residents to see if anyone notices the difference.

"I haven't been caught yet," he said. "Only the most expert would detect the differences."


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Source:University of Florida


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