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Columbia researchers work to prevent blindness from age-related macular degeneration
Date:5/18/2011

NEW YORK Slowing down the aggregation or "clumping" of vitamin A in the eye may help prevent vision loss caused by macular degeneration, research from Columbia University Medical Center has found.

Rather than changing the way the eye processes vitamin A, a team of researchers led by Ilyas Washington, a professor in the department of ophthalmology at Columbia's Harkness Eye Institute, decided to focus on changing the structure of vitamin A itself. In turn, Dr. Washington and his lab have taken a novel step toward treating age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a top cause of untreatable blindness and Stargardt's disease, the most common cause of juvenile macular degeneration.

During the sequence of events that enables vision, vitamin A undergoes a series of chemical transformations in the eye. These processes sometimes allow vitamin A to react with another molecule of vitamin A to form clumpy deposits, or what are known as "vitamin A dimers." Macular degeneration has long been thought to be associated with the formation of these dimers in the eye.

The concentrations of these dimers are higher in the eyes of the elderly and in those with certain inherited eye diseases. Vitamin A dimers are also found together with insoluble pigment granules called lipofuscin. In eye diseases such as dry-AMD, the accumulation of vitamin A dimers and these granules is thought to happen over decades. But in genetic diseases such as Stargardt's disease, this process can happen much faster, leading to early vision loss as early as age 8.

"Researchers have tried a different approach to preventing the formation of vitamin A dimers by modifying the processing of vitamin A by the eye," Dr. Washington says. "But these modifications seem to have inhibited vision and caused side effects."

In animal model studies, Dr. Washington's lab has set about synthesizing a modified vitamin A drug incorporating the hydrogen isotope deuterium rather than pr
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Contact: Alex Lyda
alyda@columbia.edu
212-305-3900
Columbia University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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