Blind World

Macular Degeneration.
Researchers exploring the theory that macular degeneration might be happening for the same reason as heart disease -- cholesterol.

June, 2004.


Wet macular degeneration is a deterioration of the central portion of the retina. The retina is located inside the back layer of the eye, and it records the images we see and sends them via the optic nerve from the eye to the brain.

The central portion of the retina is the macula, which is responsible for focusing central vision in the eye and controls our ability to read, drive, and recognize colors.

Weakening of this area is what causes macular degeneration, an incurable eye disease affecting more than 10 million Americans.

It is the leading cause of blindness for people aged 55 years or older in the United States.

Recent data indicates that by the year 2025, the population of people over the age of 65 in the United States will be six times higher than in 1990.

"Baby boomers" are aging and overall life expectancy is increasing. Since many people with macular degeneration are over age 55, the number of cases of macular degeneration in the U.S. will increase significantly as baby boomers age.

The National Eye Institute predicts macular degeneration will soon take on aspects of an epidemic and is encouraging funding for further studies.

Researchers are beginning their research by exploring the theory that macular degeneration might be happening for the same reason as heart disease -- cholesterol.

A CLOSER LOOK: A new study shows that patients who take cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins are less likely to develop symptoms of macular degeneration.

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham studied nearly 600 cases of macular degeneration. Participants were men, aged 50 years or older, who had been diagnosed with the eye ailment.

Each case was matched to 5,500 control subjects. The use of statins before the diagnosis date was recorded. Results showed individuals with a new diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration were 70 percent less likely to have filled a prescription for statins than a control group.

Researchers explained that lesions in maculopathy are located in Bruch's membrane, a layer of tissue in the eye that separates photoreceptors and their support cells from blood supply. These lesions and Bruch's membrane contain abundant lipids, including cholesterol.

The study suggests that patients with macular degeneration were less likely to have used statins to control cholesterol levels.

WHAT'S TO COME: There are no current effective treatments for macular degeneration or treatments to slow its progression in the early stages. Dr. Cynthia Owsley, co-author of the study, said, "Statins are used to help reduce low density lipoprotein cholesterol levels by inhibiting cholesterol production and increasing cholesterol removal from plasma. If cholesterol is a common pathway for the development for cardiovascular disease and for age-related maculopathy, then statin use may decrease risk."

Future clinical studies are encouraged by researchers to test the effectiveness of statins in lowering the risk and/ or rate of macular degeneration progression.

Bob Shepard
Media Relations
University of Alabama at Birmingham
(205) 934-8934

For other medical research, visit Ivanhoe Broadcast News on the Internet at

Copyright 2004 by Ivanhoe Broadcast News. All rights reserved.

2004, Internet Broadcasting Systems, Inc.

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