New Treatment for Macular Degeneration

May 7, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in Americans over age 60. There's no treatment or cure for the most common form of the disease, dry AMD. "I kept going back to the doctor telling him I couldn't read, I kept saying, 'I can't read.' I couldn't read," says Charles Wampler.

He knew something was wrong when he had to use a magnifying glass to get his daily news.

"I love to read a paper. But that's the only thing that I have noticed is that I am having trouble reading a paper," Wampler says.

He was diagnosed with age-related dry macular degeneration, or dry AMD. The disease causes a layer of tissue behind the retina to wear out. Blood vessels abnormally grow through that weak layer, causing swelling and scarring and a gradual loss of vision.

"As it dies, it erodes these areas and you get bigger and bigger geographic areas, and if it goes into your center, you can't read," says David Brown, M.D., an ophthalmologist at The Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas.

Wampler knew his golf game could soon be affected as well. So, he joined a clinical trial for a new eye drop called Hydergine.

"It's an antioxidant. It's kind of like an eye drop vitamin," Dr. Brown says.

The drops go in four times a day. Wampler's not sure if he's getting the real deal or the placebo, but he says it's worth it.

"It's a gamble I took to try to help myself and to help somebody else down the road," Wampler says.

Researchers are also testing another drop to fight wet macular degeneration -- the most severe form of AMD. It also causes an overgrowth of blood vessels behind the retina.

"And that makes acuity drop. People go blind in a hurry," Dr. Brown says.

Currently, the only treatment for wet AMD is a series of injections into the eye. While it's too early to tell if either of the drugs will be effective, doctors are hopeful, and so is Wampler.

"This study will not only help me, but it will help a lot of people behind me, younger than me, then it's worth everything we are doing to do the study," Wampler says.

Dr. Brown says it will be at least two years before the research and the data show if the drops are effective.

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