2020: Not Only a Date - A Deadline! A Cure for AMD in Our Lifetime?
As a caregiver advocate and Facebook group leader, I am frequently asked, “When will we have a cure?” There are individuals and organizations that are working on that. Some add “in our lifetime” to their mission, some say by 2020. Of course, the first thing we have to talk about is “our lifetime.” Some of us have more years behind than ahead. Reserve your judgment about when this will happen. You might be surprised. Also, think about your kids and grandkids and what will be available to them.
End Blindness by 2020
I first read about the foundation ‘End Blindness by 2020’ in a 2016 article in National Geographic titled ‘Why There’s New Hope About Curing Blindness.’ College friends Sanford ‘Sandy’ Greenberg (investor and chairman of the Wilmer Eye Institute’s Board of Governors at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine), Jerry I. Speyer (real estate magnate and philanthropist in New York) and Art Garfunkel (singer, songwriter) started the foundation because Greenberg lost his vision to glaucoma while they were in college. They set up the Sanford and Susan Greenberg Prize of $3 million (initially it was $2 million) in GOLD to a person or group of people who contribute most to ending blindness by 2020. On their webpage is a counter to the number of days to cure blindness. As I write this on September 17th, 2019, it’s 453 days.1 Check out the counter: what is it now as you read this?
Audacious Goals Initiative
The NIH’s NEI (National Institute of Health, National Eye Institute) set up the ‘Audacious Goals Initiative (AGI) for Regenerative Medicine.’ The AGI challenged the NEI staff, the scientific community, and the general public to come up with ways to restore lost vision. When there’s vision loss, the photoreceptors which give us sight can’t be regenerated. This project is looking into techniques that can regenerate them and restore sight.
Why call it an audacious goal? What is an audacious goal? It is an ambitious goal, one that would have a major impact on vision care and research. Interested parties who need funding submit a one-page description of their audacious goal. If their application is accepted, they'll get funding.2
Vision 2020: The Right to Sight
‘Vision 2020: The Right to Sight’ was launched in 1999 as a global initiative. Their goal is similar to the others which is to create “a world in which nobody is needlessly visually impaired, where those with unavoidable vision loss can achieve their full potential” by 2020. It’s a program of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (APB).3
There are other regional groups under the global ‘Vision 2020: Right to Sight’ initiative including Vision 2020 USA and Vision 2020 UK, Vision 2020 India and more.
London Project to Cure Blindness
The ‘London Project to Cure Blindness’ is a collaboration between two professors at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. Professor Pete Coffey from University College London and Professor Lyndon da Cruz a retinal Surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital. Their goal is to perfect stem cell treatment for retinal diseases such as AMD so that clinics can offer it to their patients. They don’t specify any year as a goal - they want to be able to share it with eye specialists as soon as possible.4
The project began in 2007. In September 2018, the news of the first 2 patients to receive stem cell treatments in a clinical trial gained a lot of attention. These 2 patients went from not being able to read with eyeglasses to being able to read 60-80 words per minute with just reading glasses!
There are other stem cell clinical trials that are having encouraging results.
Some people consider the retinal implant to already be a cure for profound blindness. We have cochlear implants to restore audition. Why not an implant to restore sight? Some people call it a ‘bionic eye’ which shouldn’t be confused with a prosthetic eye or ‘glass eye.’ With a bionic eye, there’s a tiny array of electrodes implanted in the retina. There are eyeglasses with a tiny camera attached. Anything the camera ‘sees’ is converted to an electric signal that stimulates the retina implant. That signal is transmitted to the brain through the optic nerve like the damaged cells used to do. 5
What the person sees is a pattern of light that they learn to interpret as shapes, movements, the outlines of people. Currently, it’s for those with profound vision loss because there are only 60 electrodes which is an improvement over previous models. To see what our eye sees would take millions of them!
Two Blind Brothers
There are 2 brothers who developed Stargardt disease at a young age. Bradford and younger brother Bryan decided they would start a clothing company and donate 100% of the profits to research to cure inherited retinal diseases (IRDs) like Stargardt’s. That’s pretty remarkable for many reasons, not the least of which is that their vision is about 20/400 so they see shapes and colors but not clearly-defined images. Their clothing is advertised as being especially soft to the touch.
Action Against AMD
The organization Action Against AMD (AAAMD) is a collaboration of the UK organizations the Macular Society, Fight for Sight, Blind Veterans, and Scottish War Blinded. Their purpose is to stop what they call the “sight loss epidemic.” 6 Their emphasis is to stop AMD in the early stages. They also want to develop a therapy that will slow the progression to the advanced stages (wet and geographic atrophy) which is where sight loss occurs.
Reason for hope!!!
Here you are at the end of this article. Do you feel more hopeful than when you began it? I am watching the progress of these organizations very carefully. I’ll share what I believe will be exciting breakthroughs. As to whether this will happen in our lifetime as baby boomers, I can’t predict.
Think about what the world will be like when your children and grandchildren no longer live in fear of macular degeneration!
Do you still drive?