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Anti-VEGF drugs for retinal diseases could have serious side effects, scientists caution
Date:11/3/2008

Boston, MAScientists at Schepens Eye Research Institute have found that reducing the levels of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which is best known as a stimulator of new blood vessel growth, in adult mice causes the death of photoreceptors and Muller glia - cells of the retina that are essential to visual function. This finding, published in the November 3, 2008 PLoS ONE, holds implications for the chronic use of promising new anti-VEGF drugs such as Lucentis, which eliminate abnormal and damaging blood vessel growth and leakage in the retina by neutralizing VEGF.

"The take home message of this study is that physicians should be vigilant in monitoring patients undergoing anti-VEGF treatments for any possible signs of these side effects," says Principal Investigator Patricia D'Amore, Senior Scientist at Schepens Eye Research Institute. "Drugs such as Lucentis are very good at reducing the edema (fluids) and eliminating the abnormal blood vessels that characterize wet macular degeneration, but our results suggest that there could be unanticipated side effects."

Scientists have long known that VEGF is essential for normal development of the vascular system and for wound healing. It triggers the formation of new blood vessels that nourish the growing body and heal organs and tissues. VEGF also stimulates--in an apparent misguided attempt to heal perceived damage in the retina--the growth of abnormal blood vessels that leak and damage delicate retinal tissue.

However, a growing body of evidence also indicates that beyond its impact on blood vessel growth, VEGF may play other vital roles in the adult body and eye, so that eliminating the growth factor might lead to unexpected consequences.

Given the popularity and promise of the new anti-VEGF drugs for the treatment of macular degeneration, D'Amore and her team believed that investigating the broader role of this growth factor in the normal adult retina was c
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Contact: Patti Jacobs
pjacobs12@comcast.net
617-864-2712
Schepens Eye Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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