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Irish researchers shed new light on macular disease

Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast have discovered a key regulator in abnormal blood vessel growth, in findings that could spur the development of improved drugs for macular disease.

The research – recently published in US journal JCI Insight – demonstrated that a specific protein called ‘CAMKII’ acts to coordinate the different signals that cause new blood vessel growth, a factor associated with diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

According to the researchers, the findings provide new understandings of how blood vessels develop, and could pave the way for the development of new treatments that may have a significantly higher success rate than those currently approved.

Professor Tim Curtis, who led the study, said anti-VEGF was not effective for up to 50% of patients, with resistance to this treatment thought to occur due to the presence of other signals that drive damaging, uncontrolled blood vessel growth. His research team has discovered another means of blocking VEGF, as well as several of the other signals.

“Our study has pinpointed a key regulator of abnormal blood vessel growth in the eye that will enable us to design new, better, treatments against a number of sight-threatening diseases,” he said.

The research was funded by British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland (BHF NI). Blood vessels of the eye and the heart share several common characteristics, with the eye being a less invasive method of understanding possible breakthroughs for heart treatments.

“The research team’s understanding of how blood vessels form and grow may also help us to devise new strategies to mend hearts after a heart attack,” BHF NI health service engagement lead Ms Karen McCammon said.

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