“Exciting Time in AMD Research” Says International Clinician Scientist at Briefing Described by Congressional Staff as “Best of the Year”
On September 23, the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research's (AEVR) Decade of Vision 2010-2020 Initiative hosted a Congressional briefing to recognize International Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Awareness Week 2010. The briefing had a true international flavor, as it was co-hosted by the AMD Alliance International (AMDAI), the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO), and the European Vision Institute (EVI).
AMDAI’s Allie Laban-Baker described a March 2010 report by the organization which estimated that 33 million people worldwide currently experience vision impairment from AMD at a direct healthcare cost of $255 billion. It is the leading cause of blindness and low vision in the United States and the Western societies. Since AMD affects central vision, it severely alters a person’s ability to read and drive, which has a significant impact on productivity, independence, and quality of life, adding greatly to its overall cost burden. The National Eye Institute (NEI) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that more than 200,000 Americans each year go on to develop advanced AMD, and this number is expected to double by 2020.
Featured speaker Hendrik Scholl, M.D. from the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University and formerly at the University of Bonn provided international perspectives from his clinical and research activities in Germany, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.A clinician scientist, he not only gave an overview of basic and translational research into AMD-much of which is funded by the NEI-he also discussed differences in biomedical research funding mechanisms between Europe and the United States. The comprehensive nature of his discussion prompted numerous staff members to publicly state that it was the best briefing they had attended this year.
“Fifteen years ago, there was not a lot new in AMD research, but now it is one of the hottest areas,” said Dr. Scholl, who is a practicing ophthalmologist whose research interest relates to retinal degenerations and to the development of therapeutic measures in order to retain and restore vision. AEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky echoed those comments by quoting NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., who stated at a June 15 House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing that, “Twenty years ago, we could do little to prevent or treat AMD. Today, because of new treatments and procedures based in part on NIH research, 1.3 million Americans at risk for severe vision loss over the next five years can receive potentially sight-saving therapies.”
Dr. Scholl described how the NEI has recently created an International AMD Genetics Consortium to share global data on the genetic associations implicated in AMD-to date, 22 such associations have been discovered, including gene variants in the body’s immune and cholesterol pathways that increase susceptibility for AMD. With this knowledge, researchers can develop diagnostic and therapeutic strategies. For example, researchers are investigating the potential for the modulation of the innate immune system to treat AMD, to use genetic and protein biomarkers to investigate pharmacogenomics, and to use the latest technology to monitor therapeutic responses. They are also investigating the use of various stem cell therapies for retinal repair.
He also acknowledged that new treatments derived from research being approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has approved the first generation of ophthalmic drugs that inhibit new blood vessel growth in the “wet” form of the disease, in which abnormal blood vessels grow underneath the central portion of the retina called the macula and rapidly damage the tissue, obscuring vision. The FDA has also just recently approved the first implantable miniature telescope to improve the sight of AMD patients.
Dr. Scholl concluded by noting the fragmented nature of governmental funding for European-based biomedical research in comparison to the centralized nature of federal funding in the U.S. “Funding is only available from the European Commission if it has first issued a specific ‘call’ for that type of research,” he stated, also noting that public funding mechanisms can vary between countries and even states within those countries.
Get more information about the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR) on the website www.eyeresearch.org