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Australian study links immune cells to vision loss

09/05/2018By Matthew Woodley
Australian research has revealed immune cells in the eye could be a determining factor in why some people lose their vision sooner than others.

The breakthrough came via a University of Melbourne study on mice led by Dr Andrew Jobling and Professor Erica Fletcher, who discovered that a particular mutation in immune cells found in the retina prevented cones from developing properly. According to AAP, it is the first time immune cells have been shown to play an important role in the development of cones, while the finding also provides a greater understanding of macular degeneration and other inherited eye diseases.


“What we’ve uncovered is a particular mechanism in which immune cells regulate cones. By understanding that mechanism we will be in a position, hopefully, to develop therapeutic tools that would target that particular signalling pathway.”
Professor Erica Fletcher, University of Melbourne

“What we found is that immune cells communicate and regulate the health of the neurons (cones) in the retina and in particular are important in how the neurons allow us to respond to light,” Fletcher said.

“If you have a lower number of these cells that help us see during the day, these cones, that means that you will get these diseases like macular degeneration earlier.”

Fletcher added it was possible the study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, would have clinical implications in the future and she hoped the findings would eventually improve the early detection of inherited eye disease.

“What we’ve uncovered is a particular mechanism in which immune cells regulate cones. By understanding that mechanism we will be in a position, hopefully, to develop therapeutic tools that would target that particular signalling pathway,” Fletcher said.

“That would mean instead of the cones being lost earlier in your life there would be a way to control the number of cones you have in your retina.”

Image courtesy: Dennis Skley

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