Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in adults over 50 living in developed countries. AMD is the chronic and progressive degeneration of photoreceptors. Age and genetics have been proven to be the two leading causes of AMD. In 2012, we reported that Ophthalmology published a study indicating that frequent aspirin use in patients 65 and older is also associated with AMD.

Genetic testing has been used in the past to identify a patient’s risk for AMD. Ophthalmology has published a new study online that identifies biomarkers of AMD. Dr. Lasky-Su and colleagues at the Channing Division of Network Medicine of Brigham Women’s Hospital have discovered a new way of identifying blood profiles related to AMD. This new technique is called “metabolomics” and uses metabolites, small molecules in the blood, to identify patients with AMD.

Metabolomics identifies blood profiles associated with AMD through laboratory testing. The testing can also determine how severe a patient’s AMD is and what stage it has progressed to. This is important because AMD has little to no symptoms in the early stages, with visual symptoms only occurring at advanced stages of the disease. The prevalence of AMD is expected to increase as the population ages, and prior to this study, the medical field lacked reliable measures for determining patients who may be at risk for developing AMD and progressing on to the more advanced blinding stage of the disease.

The identification of lipid biomarkers in human blood plasma will lead to earlier diagnosis, more precise treatment, and patient targets for AMD treatment. A key finding of the study showed that 87 metabolites were significantly different in patients who had AMD when compared to patients that didn’t. The study also showed varying characteristics of patient blood profiles at different stages of AMD. This means that patients at different stages of AMD will be able to receive more personalized treatment according to their level of AMD. Studies like these are helping to launch a whole new era of personalized medicine.

There’s no cure for AMD, but treatment may slow the disease and prevent severe vision loss. Current treatments include injections in the eye. In recent years, researchers have studied the possibility of injections under the skin delivered by the patient. Injections to the eye typically use anti-angiogenic drugs and cost thousands of dollars. The injection under the skin that patients will be able to give themselves uses a protein-blocking molecule that enters the eye through the bloodstream. This method could save patients thousands of dollars and, along with metabolomics, offers new hope for patients with age-related macular degeneration.

While this research is promising and offers opportunities to treat AMD on a more advanced and personal level, early detection is still key. Regular eye exams are an important part of your eye health routine and become even more important as you age. If you feel you may be at risk for age-related macular degeneration, make an appointment to speak with one of our eye health specialists today.

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