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Alliance for Aging Research Hails Progress in Treating Age-Related Macular Degeneration
SOURCE: Alliance for Aging Research

WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 /PRNewswire/ -- News today that a light-activated drug has been shown to preserve vision against the leading cause of age-related blindness ``brings real hope for millions of older Americans,'' according to the Alliance for Aging Research.

``This is very good news for the 13 million Americans who suffer from age- related macular degeneration (AMD), and especially those afflicted with the 'wet' form of the disease which directly leads to irreversible blindness in the elderly,'' said the Alliance's executive director Daniel Perry.

Age is the leading risk factor for AMD, which is the primary cause of permanent blindness among people over the age of 50.

Researchers today released results from the first half of a two-year study showing that patients treated with the drug verteporfin triggered by non-thermal light were more likely to have stable or improved vision compared to placebo-treated patients. While the study will continue to determine longer-term efficacy and safety, verteporfin therapy is expected to be filed for final Food and Drug Administration approval later this year.

The Alliance for Aging Research provides free consumer information on AMD in an easy-to-read brochure called ``Taking a Closer Look at Age-related Macular Degeneration.'' It can be obtained by calling 1-800-497-0360.

``The more Americans know about AMD, the more they will understand simple lifestyle changes that may prevent its onset,'' said Perry. ``Some preventive measures include wearing sunglasses, eating a diet rich in fruits and leafy green vegetables, limiting alcohol intake and stopping smoking.''

The companies that sponsored and developed the research are QLT PhotoTherapeutics Inc. and CIBA Vision Corporation, the eyecare unit of Novartis.

The not-for-profit Alliance for Aging Research is the nation's leading citizen advocacy organization for research to improve the health and independence of older Americans through public and private research.

Age-related Macular Degeneration Fact Sheet

Q:What is age-related macular degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in people over 65 in the United States. It is a slow, progressive, and painless condition that affects the macula, the small central part of the retina that allows you to see fine detail clearly. AMD occurs when cells in the macula break down, causing sight loss in the central field of vision, but leaving peripheral vision intact.

Q:How many people are affected by AMD?

It is estimated as many as 13 million people in the U.S. age 40 and older have signs of macular degeneration, and more than 1.2 million have the later, vision-threatening stages of the disease.

There are two main types of AMD:

``Dry'' AMD, which accounts for 90% of cases, occurs when small yellowish deposits, called drusen, accumulate beneath the macula. These deposits gradually break down the macula's light-sensing cells, normally causing distorted vision in one eye, then the other. Dry AMD rarely causes total loss of reading vision.

``Wet'' AMD, accounts for the other 10% of AMD cases. It occurs when tiny, new abnormal blood vessels begin to grow behind the retina toward the macula. Here, they often leak blood and fluid that damage the macula, causing rapid and severe vision loss. Wet AMD almost always occurs in people who already have dry AMD, and results in legal blindness in most of its sufferers.

Q: How does AMD affect vision?

As the cells in the macula deteriorate, the ability to see will begin to change. Objects directly in front of an individual appear to change shape, size, or color, and may seem to move or disappear. Vision may blur, lines may become distorted, or dark spots may appear in the center of the field of vision. Eventually, AMD results in a circular area of blindness that may block out words.

Q: What are the risk factors for AMD?
Age is the main risk factor for developing AMD. In the U.S. it is estimated that about 14% of people aged 55 to 64 have some degree of AMD.

Diet and Nutrition
Early research has shown that a low dietary intake of certain antioxidants, such as lutein found in leafy green vegetables, may increase risk of developing AMD.

Cell damage from the sun can lead, over time, to deterioration of the macula.

Some studies show that AMD may be in part inherited.

Gender Differences
Being a woman over age 75 doubles your chances of developing AMD compared to a man of the same age.

***To obtain a free consumer brochure on age-related macular degeneration call 1-800-497-0360.

SOURCE: Alliance for Aging Research

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Date last modified December 6, 1998