New macular degeneration treatment could help seniors see clearly again

It's the leading cause of vision loss for people over 60. Macular degeneration slowly steals a person's eyesight making reading, driving and every day living difficult.

It's estimated nearly 18-million Americans will have the blinding condition by the year 2050.

Treatment usually involved monthly injections, until now.

Judie Janes’ handiwork keeps a long list of friends and family in style. Last year she thought she made her last stitch.

"I couldn't thread a needle, couldn't see the needle to thread it on my sewing machine," Macular degeneration patient Judie Janes said.

Judie was diagnosed with wet macular degeneration. Abnormal blood vessels growing under her retina were bleeding.

"Vision is not something you can take for granted," Janes said.

Traditionally doctors inject a drug into the eye that stops the vessels from growing, but it doesn't last.

"It's a big impact on lifestyle for the patients. They have to come in once a month sometimes for a year or two or longer," Retina Specialist Dr. Peter Sonkin said.

In a clinical trial, doctors use a small probe that delivers targeted low dose radiation to the eye.

"The amount of radiation exposure to the body from going through this procedure is less than one would get flying from New York to Los Angeles in a plane," Retina specialist Dr. Carl Awh said.

Then surgeons inject a dose of the traditional medication. They say the radiation-drug combo is more powerful, lasts longer and could eliminate the need for monthly injections.

"Nothing's blurry. I passed the eye test, and you know you can't fake an eye test," Judie Janes said.

Judie checks her vision every morning. She went from nearly legally blind, 20/100, to 20/20 after surgery.

She is a grandma who has too much going on to spend her golden years in the dark.

Patients are sedated for the out-patient surgery which takes about an hour. The technique is in the final stages of approval in Europe and should be available there in august.

If the trial is successful in the U.S. the treatment could be available in less than two years.

REPORT: MB #3007


Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease that affects older adults and slowly destroys sharp central vision. Central vision is needed to see objects clearly and for tasks such as reading and driving. AMD affects the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail. The macula is located in the center of the retina, the light sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. The retina converts light (or an image) into electrical impulses, and then sends these impulses to the brain. AMD causes no pain and in some cases progresses so slowly that people notice little change in their vision. On the other hand, the disease may progress rapidly and may lead to a loss of vision in both eyes.


AMD occurs in wet and dry types. In the dry type, the damage to the retina is due to the formation of small yellow deposits under the macula, known as drusen. This leads to a thinning and drying of the macula causing it to lose its function. Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels begin to grown underneath the retina. These vessels tend to be very fragile and can leak blood and fluid, which raise the macula from its normal place to the back of the eye. Vision loss from wet AMD is faster and more noticeable than the loss due to dry AMD. About 10 percent of patients with dry AMD later progress to wet AMD.


Currently there is no cure for AMD. High doses of certain nutritional supplements have been shown to help many people slow or avoid progression from dry to wet AMD, but once wet AMD has developed, it is important to receive medical treatment. The earlier wet AMD is diagnosed the better the patient's chances of preserving some or much of their central vision. Because loss of vision is caused by the growth of new blood vessels, drugs that slow of stop this process can stabilize and often improve vision. Lucentis and Macugen are two drugs approved by the FDA for the treatment of wet AMD.


Epiretinal Beta Radiation Therapy uses a common surgical technique to deliver a very precise dose of beta radiation directly to the area of the affected area by wet AMD. Beta radiation is thought to affect wet AMD by destroying existing abnormal vessels and discouraging the growth of new ones. Even though the dose of radiation is strong enough to affect the AMD lesion, its energy does not travel far, which means that surrounding tissues receive only slight exposure. The beta radiation procedure is done on an outpatient basis and usually takes less than an hour to perform, usually requiring only local anesthesia (SOURCE: Cabernet).

Kristi Gooden, Public Relations
Baptist Hospital
Nashville, TN
(615) 284-5446

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