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Study reports success in treating a rare retinal disorder
Date:4/14/2009

Ann Arbor, MI--Patients with a rare, blinding eye disease saw their vision improve after treatment with drugs to suppress their immune systems, according to researchers at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center. Because autoimmune retinopathy (AIR) is difficult to diagnose, the biggest challenge now is to find biologic markers that identify patients who can benefit from treatment.

In a review of 30 patients with autoimmune retinopathy, 21 individuals showed improvement after receiving treatment with immunosuppression therapy. The study, reported in the April issue of Archives of Ophthalmology, is the largest review of AIR cases to date. Improvement was defined by several measures, including the ability to read a minimum of two additional lines on the standard eye chart or expansion of at least 25% in visual field size.

"The results challenge the commonly held belief that autoimmune retinopathy is untreatable," says John R. Heckenlively, M.D., author of the report and an international expert on retinal dystrophies. In this disease, antibodies attack the retina, resulting in progressive vision loss and eventual blindness.

AIR is like other autoimmune diseases in which the immune system goes awry and begins to attack healthy tissue. The patients in the current study were treated with various combinations of immunosuppression medications to counteract the unwanted autoantibodies from the immune system.

"It is not easy to identify patients with AIR because the clinical symptoms are very similar to other diseases involving retinal degeneration," says Heckenlively. Typically these patients are diagnosed as having retinitis pigmentosa, a blinding eye disease for which there is no treatment. "When someone asks how to distinguish one group from the other," says Heckenlively, the answer often is "with difficulty."

"We do not yet have a single test to confirm a diagnosis of AIR," explains Heckenlively. "However most patients have c
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Contact: Besty Nisbet
bsnisbet@umich.edu
734-647-5586
University of Michigan Health System
Source:Eurekalert

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