Scientists have identified a new protein that could help establish improved diagnosis and treatment of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
The research team from the UK report that elevated levels of factor H-related protein 4, or FHR-4, are present in the blood of people with the condition, a leading cause of blindness worldwide, according to findings published in Nature Communications.
Using eye tissue donated for medical research, the research team also showed that the protein is present within the macula, the specific region of the eye affected by AMD.
“Apart from improving understanding of how AMD is caused, this work also provides a way of predicting risk of the disease by simply measuring blood levels of FHR-4,” study co-author Paul Bishop, an ophthalmologist at the University of Manchester in England, said.
“[It] also provides a new route to treatment by reducing the blood levels of FHR-4 to restore immune system function in the eyes,” he said.
The researchers from Queen Mary University of London and the University of Manchester used a genetic technique called genome-wide association to identify specific changes in the genome related to the increased levels of FHR-4 found in people with AMD.
Blood levels of FHR-4 were measured in 484 patients and 522 age-matched controls using two independent, established collections of AMD patient data; the Cambridge AMD study and the European Genetic Database.
The authors believe that measuring FHR-4 levels in the blood may result in earlier diagnosis and provide a potential therapeutic target for a disease currently without a viable cure.
Co-author Simon Clark, from the University of Manchester, added: “Up until now, the role played by FHR proteins in disease has only ever been inferred. But now we show a direct link and, more excitingly, become a tangible step closer to identifying a group of potential therapeutic targets to treat this debilitating disease.”