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Monkeys offer genetic clues to adult blindness

A genetic link between rhesus monkeys with macular degeneration and humans// could help treat blindness in older adults, reports science portal www.eurekalerts.org.

Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in older adults, yet researchers are still in the dark about many factors that cause this incurable disease.

William W. Dawson, professor of ophthalmology and physiology in the University of Florida and other researchers, studied seven genetic sites in the monkeys that correspond to human chromosomes linked to macular disease.

One of the areas, the findings confirm, contains genes that predict age-related macular degeneration in humans and rhesus monkeys. This discovery, Dawson said, would help delve deeper into what causes the disease and could be the first step toward repairing the genetic defects linked to it.

Age-related macular degeneration develops when a small, light-detecting part of the retina called the macula breaks down. The disease causes nodule-like specks to build up in the eye, chipping away central vision over time.

But Dawson said most people don't even realise something is wrong until they detect changes in their vision. The disease can be controlled, but there is no known way to reverse the vision loss it causes.

Knowing more about the earliest predictors of macular degeneration could help doctors treat the disease before extensive vision loss occurs and may even prevent it in some people.

The early risks associated with macular degeneration have been difficult for researchers to study in humans and, as a result, doctors know little about this aspect of the disease, Dawson said.

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, that he sometimes slipped images of rhesus monkey eyes into presentations for medical resid
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