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Genetic Testing Sheds Light on Degenerative Eye Disease

Genetic testing for eye disease is providing vital information about complex retinal diseases, especially when used to// confirm a clinician’s diagnosis.

In a newly published review of such tests that were conducted over a five-year period at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center, scientists were able to confirm a clinician’s diagnosis in half of the cases. The testing took place in the laboratory of Radha Ayyagari, Ph.D., director of Kellogg’s Ophthalmic Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory.

In the February issue of Archives of Ophthalmology, Ayyagari and her colleagues report on 350 genetic tests conducted since 1999, when the U-M Ophthalmic Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory became one of the first laboratories in the nation to receive government approval for ophthalmic testing under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment (CLIA). For each test described in the current study, scientists analyzed one or more of eight genes known to cause diseases of the retina.

Of the 350 tests, 266 were performed to confirm a clinician’s diagnosis, by far the most common use of genetic testing for eye disease. Another 75 tests sought to determine whether an individual was a “carrier” of a disease, and nine tests were used to predict the likelihood that an individual with a family history of a given eye disease would go on to develop it.

Ayyagari’s team was able to determine the molecular basis of the disease in half of 266 tests conducted to confirm a diagnosis. These results are significant because many retinal diseases present similar symptoms, and it is sometimes difficult for even the most skilled specialist to distinguish one from the other. By comparing a patient’s DNA to known disease-causing genes, scientists deliver information needed to confirm or rule out a diagnosis. To date, scientists have identified over 130 genes associated with retinal disease, such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration.


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