PHOTO: Scientists at the University of Iowa recently found a new inherited eye disease that affects the macula, which is part of the retina. In this image of the macula of an affected person, there are brown spots and cysts that cause blurring or blind spots in the person’s vision. Credit: University of Iowa, 2009.
Now the search is on to find the genetic cause, which investigators hope will increase understanding of more common retinal diseases.
The findings appeared in the Nov. 9 issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology.
The macula, located within the retina, is an area of high-resolution central vision that is needed to read or drive, for example. This area is damaged in more common retinal conditions such as macular degeneration and can be damaged by diabetes.
“It is rare to find a new inherited eye disease that affects the macula. We thought we had seen them all,” said the study’s lead author Vinit Mahajan, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine. (photo right)
“This newly found retinal disease causes abnormal blood vessels in the macula, and these vessels are prone to bleeding. This causes swelling or scars that ‘black out’ or blur parts of the field of vision,” said Mahajan, who also is a retinal specialist with UI Hospitals and Clinics.
The finding came about when one person in a family in the United States sought care for eye problems. “If a doctor saw just one family member, they would probably call this macular degeneration. We knew there was something different, and we had to examine the rest of the family,” Mahajan said.
The team assessed 20 extended family members who were not blind but had visual problems of different severities. Some family members also had areas of central vision loss, and some family members had strabismus, a disorder in which the eyes are not aligned.
The UI researchers have presented their findings at international meetings of retinal specialists in Arizona, Florida and London. The investigators are now working with researchers worldwide to determine if other people have this particular disease.
“Through our paper and by sharing pictures of what the affected eye looks like, we hope to find more people affected,” Mahajan said. “We also will work to find the gene that causes the condition. This information could be very useful in eventually preventing or treating this and other diseases that affect the macula.”
The advanced genetics research capabilities at the UI Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration increase the likelihood of finding a gene, Mahajan said.
The study’s senior author was Edwin Stone, M.D., Ph.D., Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and UI professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences. Stephen Russell, M.D., UI professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences, also contributed to the study.
The study was supported in part by grants from the Foundation Fighting Blindness and Research to Prevent Blindness.
Scientists at the University of Iowa recently found a new inherited eye disease that affects the macula, which is part of the retina. In this image of the macula of an affected person, there are brown spots and cysts that cause blurring or blind spots in the person’s vision. Credit: University of Iowa, 2009.
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PHOTO AVAILABLE: An image of an affected macula is available on request.