Around fifteen per cent of people aged in their fifties who think their eyes are fine will show the early signs of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) if tested.
It is Australia’s leading cause of blindness and there is no way to stop it progressing even when detected in its earliest phase.
“There have been advances in treatment but that’s at the end stage,” says Prof Robyn Guymer, who heads the Macular Research Unit at the Centre for Eye Research Australia.
“In the early stage there is no specific treatment, other than a healthy lifestyle and perhaps the use of supplements.”
This could be about to change. Robyn is studying the effects of retinal rejuvenation therapy (2RT), which uses an experimental nanosecond laser a thousand times less powerful than those commonly used to treat eye disease.
How it works is not yet clear, although it appears to stimulate a natural, biological healing process. Treating one eye also prompts improvement in the other, hinting at the possibility of a beneficial systemic effect.
A pilot study, funded via a $540,000 collaborative science and innovation grant from the Victorian Government, showed positive results, and recruitment is now underway for a four -year randomised trial involving 200 patients with early-stage AMD.
“We need to prove beyond a doubt that if you have the new laser treatment in the early stages of AMD you are less likely to become blind over time,” Robyn says.
“The aim is to prevent people from getting to the end stage of AMD, where in some cases there is no treatment currently available and in other cases there is a need for long term, regular, treatment to reduce the vision loss from AMD.”
Photo: A scan reveals bleeding inside the eye due to age-related macular degeneration.
Photo: Robyn Guymer is trialling an experimental laser-based therapy which aims to stop age-related macular degeneration from progressing beyond its earliest phase.
Victorian Department of Business and Innovation, www.business.vic.gov.au/innovation