Quest to End Macular Degeneration Continues With $1.7M Grant

The UA’s Brian McKay will continue his work showing that l-dopa — used to treat Parkinson’s disease — can delay or prevent the sight-destroying eye disease.
by: Jean Spinelli, UA Health Sciences Today
After showing that individuals who take levodopa, or l-dopa, for movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease are protected from developing macular degeneration, University of Arizona researcher Brian S. McKay is taking the next step in his quest to prevent the blinding eye disease, thanks to a $1.7 million grant from the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health.
Macular degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is a degenerative disease of the retina that causes loss of central vision. L-dopa is a naturally occurring molecule made in all pigmented tissues, including the retinal pigment epithelium, or RPE, of the eye, where it has a role in maintaining a healthy macula — the part of the eye’s retina that provides the most high-acuity color vision.
McKay’s discovery that the RPE expresses a receptor for l-dopa, and that this signaling pathway fosters the survival of the retina, led to a collaborative observational study that found that patients who take a synthesized form of l-dopa, a common treatment for Parkinson’s, were far less likely to develop macular degeneration. And if they did develop the disease, the onset was delayed by nearly 10 years.
“We will follow up this critical observation with cell biological studies to determine how l-dopa’s effect occurs,” said McKay, associate professor of ophthalmology and vision science at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson. “This grant will help us determine whether we can repurpose l-dopa to halt the epidemic that age-related macular degeneration has become.”
AMD is the most common cause of blindness in individuals older than 55 in developed countries, and more than 10 million people in the United States have AMD, according to the Foundation Fighting Blindness. AMD is particularly prevalent in the Southwest with its large retired population…
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Source: UA News