University of Virginia Health scientists have discovered an unknown contributor to harmful blood vessel growth in the eye that could lead to new treatments for blinding macular degeneration and other common causes of vision loss.
UVA’s Jayakrishna Ambati, MD, and Shao-bin Wang, PhD, and their colleagues have identified a new target to prevent the formation of abnormal tangles of blood vessels associated with eye conditions such as neovascular age-related macular degeneration, proliferative diabetic retinopathy and ischemic retinal vein occlusion.
Scientists have known that abnormal vessel overgrowth in the eye is fueled by excessive amounts of a substance called “vascular endothelial growth factor-A,” or VEGF, that plays an important role in blood vessel formation. There are now treatments available that target VEGF to prevent vessel overgrowth, and they often provide dramatic benefits at first. Unfortunately, these benefits can fade with time. That leaves doctors in need of better treatments to help preserve patients’ eyesight.
Ambati and Wang’s new research identifies a key protein that determines VEGF levels. Blocking this protein in lab mice reduced their VEGF levels significantly, and it did so in a targeted way, without unwanted side effects.
In addition to identifying a promising target for the development of new treatments for vision loss, the discovery sheds important light on the fundamental mechanisms responsible for the blood vessel overgrowth that robs millions of people of their sight.