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Australian researchers trial blood test for AMD

16/01/2019By Callum Glennen
A blood test under development at The Australian National University (ANU) has the potential to detect people who are at risk of atrophic age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

The research project, led by Dr Riccardo Natoli from The John Curtin School of Medical Research and ANU Medical School, is offering hope that earlier detection of the disease will provide the opportunity to slow down vision loss.

Natoli said that the methods currently used to detect the disease often provide a diagnosis far too late.

“Once dry AMD starts there is a threshold tipping point and once a patient gets over that point there is nothing that can be done to save their sight. By the diagnosis stage, you look at the back of the eye and you already see that photoreceptors, the light sensing cells of the eye, are starting to die,” Natoli said.

Riccardo Natoli
Riccardo Natoli
“We hope to be able to predict people who are at high risk and start treating before the disease presentation even eventuates.”
Riccardo Natoli, ANU

“There are 200 million people around the world that suffer with AMD and our hope is to try and slow the progression of vision loss allowing more people in our global community to share in our wonderfully beautiful visual world.”

The research involved the use of a light model designed to better understand the deuteriations of the retina’s photoreceptor cells in the macular. From this modelling, they observed inflammation that was occurring as a consequence of the damage.

Based on this model, Natoli and his team are working on a blood test that would be able to detect the disease earlier than current methods.

“By looking at these photoreceptor molecules in the macular and understanding how they function, we will be able to early predict or diagnose a patient that is having systemic inflammatory responses,” Natoli said.

“Combined with predisposition genetic information, we hope to be able to predict people who are at high risk and start treating before the disease presentation even eventuates.”

The groundbreaking research is being backed by the Translational Fellowship Program and Beta Therapeutics, which have partnered with ANU to develop and test drugs to slow the inflammatory response, and subsequently the progress of the disease.

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