Research into macular degeneration
We’re funding research to help treat macular degeneration more effectively and even restore vision to patients, because we believe that people’s sight matters.
Macular degeneration is a common eye condition where cells in the middle of the retina (the light-sensitive layer at the back of your eye) die or are damaged, making it difficult to see fine details clearly.
The macula is only 5mm across, but is key for seeing fine details colour vision
Age-related macular degeneration affects over 600,000 people across the UK
Causes of macular degeneration
Macular disease is relatively common and can affect anyone.
It is the most common causes of sight loss in people with diabetes (diabetic macular oedema), and inherited macular dystophies (like Stargardt’s Disease) are a leading cause of sight loss in children.
Juvenile macular dystrophies like Stargart’s Disease are caused by spelling mistakes in particular genes (which children usually inherit from their parents), whilst diabetic macular oedema is a risk of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
However, the most common form of macular disease is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which generally affects people over 50.
AMD comes in two forms:
- ‘Dry’ AMD, which is caused by a build-up of waste material under the macular.
- ‘Wet’ AMD, where abnormal blood vessels start to grow underneath the retina and leak blood and fluid.
Around three quarters of AMD cases are dry, which rarely cause severe sight loss.
1 in 4
20-25% of people with dry AMD will go on to develop the more serious form, wet AMD.
Symptoms and treatments
Loss of central vision means people with macular degeneration often struggle to do everyday tasks like reading a clock or recognising people’s faces.
It only affects central vision and so doesn’t cause blindness, as peripheral vision usually stays normal.
Dry AMD usually only causes mild loss of central vision (if any), but in wet AMD the leaking of blood and fluid into the back of the eye causes more severe sight loss. If left untreated, wet AMD can lead to scarring of the macula and permanent loss of central vision.
Treatments for macular degeneration
Some forms of macular degeneration are currently untreatable.
Diabetic macular oedema is treated by ensuring the underlying diabetes is very well-controlled, but there is currently no treatment or cure for Stargardt’s Disease.
There is also currently no treatment for dry AMD - other than closely monitoring the condition to ensure it is not progressing to wet AMD.
Wet AMD can be treated by:
- shining bright lights into the eye to destroy the abnormal blood vessels damaging the macula, or;
- injecting antibodies into the eye which block the production of chemicals which encourage these blood vessels to grow (anti-VEGF injections).
Anti-VEGF injections are effective at halting the progression of wet AMD and preventing further vision loss for 90% of people, but only in rare cases do they restore lost sight.
Investing in macular degeneration
We’re currently funding research into potential treatments for macular degeneration using stem cells.
This research has the potential to restore sight to patients with conditions like advanced wet AMD and Stargardt’s Disease.
We’re proud to be a major funder of one of the biggest efforts in this area: the London Project to Cure Blindness.
Ailish Murray, director of grants and research