What’s the leading cause of blindness among aging parents and other seniors in America? That answer, as many know, is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). But what’s the mechanism that brings about this condition?
Scientists have known for some time that AMD occurs when too many blood vessels crowd into the eye, specifically the retina. But why do they do that? A new study gives some initial clues as to the answer.
Researchers have published a study called “Retinal lipid and glucose metabolism dictates angiogenesis through lipid sensor Ffar1” in the journal Nature Medicine.
In a press release associated with the study’s publication, Jean-Sebastien Joyal, one of the authors and a pediatrician at Montreal’s hospital, CHU Sainte-Justine, explained that they had used a mouse model of AMD to study the disease. “We found that the inability of photoreceptors – nerve cells that capture light and generate vision – to produce energy may drive abnormal blood vessels to invade the retina. We also discovered that photoreceptors do not rely exclusively on glucose to produce energy as previously thought, but also use lipids as a fuel substrate (like the heart, for example).”
Blood vessels tend to overproduce to compensate for a lack of oxygen, but what Dr. Joyal’s study indicates is that lack of energy may also be a major cause. It also indicates that the photoreceptors need both fatty acids and glucose (sugar) to get the energy that they need.
If this is the case, then it may open up new pathways to treating and/or preventing AMD. For example, if the theories developed in this study are proven to be accurate in humans, scientists can then work on ways of providing fatty acids and glucose to the photoreceptors. This will give doctors an option to use when signs of AMD appear in aging parents and other patients.
Keeping their eyesight is an understandably important goal for aging parents and other seniors. Research that illuminates causes of AMD can produce substantial benefits in the future.