Research findings shared for National Eye Health Week (24 - 30 September) reveal a link between over-active immune systems, stimulated by poor diets and oxidative stress, and the development and progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) - the UK's leading cause of blindness.
Research conducted by teams of British scientists has found that yellow deposits (known as drusen) found at the back of the eye in AMD patients contain protein covered waste products that attract and activate faulty immune cells leading to low grade but chronic inflammation and ultimately sight-threatening retinal damage.
Jessica L. Teeling, Professor of Experimental Neuro-immunology at Southampton University, one of the scientists leading research into the link between immunity and AMD explains: "We've found many AMD patients have over-activate immune systems. Certain diets and stress, fuel the flames of inflammation and this can lead to early onset of AMD symptoms."
Professor Teeling continues: "In our laboratory at the University of Southampton, we measure the levels of inflammation in the blood and eyes of AMD patients and compare the levels to healthy individuals. We hope this will lead us to find a protein that can predict future vision loss and inform us about novel ways to treat this debilitating disease. We may be able to prevent or delay the symptoms of AMD if we control the immune system."
Age-related macular degeneration is the biggest cause of blindness in the UK, affecting 600,000 people. By 2050 this number is expected to double.
Commenting on the research Cathy Yelf, CEO of the Macular Society said: "More funding into eye research is critical to help us understand how immune responses initiate or exacerbate AMD. Having a clear understanding of the role this and other environmental factors play in the disease's development is an important stepping stone towards pinpointing novel therapeutic therapies to prevent sight loss."
Since National Eye Health Week began on Monday more than 1,000 people* have been diagnosed with macular disease. David Cartwright Chairman of Eye Health UK, the charity responsible for running National Eye Health Week, has this advice for people diagnosed with the condition:
"If you smoke, stop. Smokers are four times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers. Smoking kills the cells of the retina, reduces the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the eye and damages blood vessels. Smoking causes AMD to progress faster and makes treatment less effective.
"Take moderate exercise to maintain a healthy weight and normal blood pressure and eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, especially green, leafy vegetables. These contain nutrients that are thought to be important to eye health."