Possible Treatment for Macular Degeneration

Recent Study Could Lead to New Treatment for Macular Degeneration

Last week, researchers at the University of Kentucky at Lexington released the results of a recent study that could lead to possible new treatment options for macular degeneration. The study involved testing a class of drugs that was used for treating HIV/AIDs to see how they could be used to combat other inflammatory diseases and disorders. Keep reading to learn more about this groundbreaking study and how it could help treat macular degeneration.

Living with a Progressive Disease

Macular degeneration is, unfortunately, a leading cause of vision loss and blindness in the elderly. It is chronic and progressive, resulting in blurred central vision that causes difficulty while reading, driving, and performing other day-to-day activities. Dry, as opposed to wet, macular degeneration is the most common type of the disorder, but it does not have many treatment options. Although vitamin supplements are often recommended, people who develop macular degeneration must slowly adapt to their increased vision loss, with no real hope of slowing or reversing the process. 

Testing Old Drug Therapies in New Ways

The researchers in Kentucky focused on nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), which are a class of drugs that have been used to effectively help treat HIV/AIDs during the past 30 years. NRTIs primarily work by targeting the disease’s replicating enzymes. By blocking this process from completion, NRTIs manage to slow the progression of the disease. The researchers involved in this study tested numerous NRTIs, using mice with a similar disorder to macular degeneration to see the results. 

Surprising Results

Some of the drugs tested did not block the replicating enzymes as expected, but they were surprisingly successful in combatting the disease in a different way. Researchers at the university discovered that the NRTIs successfully blocked a particular type of inflammasome, a complex protein known as NLRP3. This breakthroughis what could lead to new drug therapies for those afflicted with macular degeneration, both the wet and dry forms. By blocking the inflammasomes, the drugs successfully prevented retinal degeneration in the mice, which gives us hope that macular degeneration may someday be completely treatable.

Repurposing What We Know

Many current NRTIs have been through years of clinical testing and have additionally been on the market for decades. Most are inexpensive, safe, and FDA-approved, making them an ideal starting point for new drug therapies. Since the NRTI class of drugs already exists, we are much closer to a new treatment solution for macular degeneration than we would be if an entirely new drug had to be developed from scratch. Instead, the compounds of existing NRTIs can be tested, developed, and repurposed to combat a variety of other inflammatory disorders.

What Comes Next

The creation of new drug therapies takes years, with a seemingly endless cycle of researching, developing, and testing. This study from the University of Kentucky does not mean that all forms macular degeneration will be treatable within the next year, but this does mean that we have a taken a large step in the right direction. Repurposing an existing class of drugs is much cheaper, easier, and faster than developing something new, which gives us hope that we will see the day when macular degeneration is 100% treatable.


This Nationwide programme special takes a look at a degenerative eye condition that affects thousands of over 55's in this country. Age Related Macular Degeneration is a condition which can lead to blindness. Nationwide visits the Vision Research Centre at Waterford Institute of Technology, the only centre of its kind in the world and meets Professor John Nolan and his research team in The Macular Pigment Research Group who are conducting ground breaking clinical trials on the effects of dietary supplements on Age Related Macular Degeneration. AMD affects over 80,000 people in Ireland and costs the state up to €133 million per annum. The scientists at the Vision Research Centre are examining the role of nutritional supplements in visual performance and the prevention of AMD. Reporter Helen McInerney speaks to Cork woman Norah Norton who was told by her doctor to sell her house in the country and move into the city because she wouldn't be able to drive as a result of her deteriorating sight and eventual blindness caused by Age Related Macular Degeneration. Norah heard about the Vision Research Centre, contacted them and was subsequently put on a course of dietary supplements which saved her sight. Helen McInerney tells the story.



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