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Investigational Therapies for AMD

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2024 | Last updated: June 2024

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is one of the most common eye conditions causing vision loss in older people. In macular degeneration, the macula (tissue at the back of the eye) is damaged. This causes loss of central vision. AMD progresses slowly in some people, resulting in gradual vision loss. Other people lose vision quickly.1

Investigational therapies are promising new treatments that doctors are testing in clinical trials or studies. For a drug, device, surgery, or lifestyle change, a clinical trial tests:1

  • Whether it works at all
  • How well it works compared to existing treatments
  • What people it works best in
  • What its side effects are and the severity of those side effects

Types of macular degeneration

There are 2 types of AMD: dry and wet. Dry AMD is much more common. Stargardt disease is an inherited type of macular degeneration. It often occurs in childhood, though it may appear in young adults. Myopic macular degeneration is another form of macular degeneration that leads to vision loss.1-3

There is no cure for macular degeneration. So, doctors are looking for new ways to slow the progression of the disease and preserve vision.1,4

There are several existing treatments for wet AMD. For those with dry AMD, 2 drugs are available to treat the later stages of the disease, known as geographic atrophy. The hope is to find treatments that improve quality of life by slowing down AMD in its early stages.1,4,5

Examples of investigational therapies for AMD

Researchers are exploring several new treatments for macular degeneration.

Stress resilience-enhancing drugs (SREDs)

Stress resilience-enhancing drugs, or SREDs, are a new class of drugs meant to stop or slow damage to the retina. So far, they have shown promise in animals. If successful in humans, SREDs could be used to treat macular degeneration and other eye diseases that cause the retina to break down.6

Photobiomodulation therapy

Photobiomodulation therapy (PBT) is a noninvasive type of laser or LED light treatment. With PBT, a series of short bursts of light are directed at tissue to help new cells grow and reduce inflammation. In early studies, it improved color vision and the ability to see contrasts in some people. It reduced macula damage in others.7

Artificial retina

Doctors are experimenting with an artificial retina. A pair of glasses is mounted with a tiny camera and video processor, and electrical wires connect to the eye. The glasses transmit what someone would normally see to their brain, bypassing their damaged retina. The hope is to fully restore a person’s vision.8

Microstimulation and the i-SIGHT device

Many studies are being done that look at using tiny doses of electrical current to improve people’s vision after AMD has damaged their eye tissue. The technique seems to show promise.9

A small study is underway to test whether a device by i-Lumen Scientific can successfully treat dry AMD in the eye doctor’s office. The i-SIGHT device delivers microdoses of electricity to the eye through the eyelid.10

Stem cell therapy

Stem cells are special cells that can grow whatever new cells a particular area of the body needs. Someone with macular degeneration would need new cones, rods, and retina cells. In stem cell therapy, stem cells are injected into the eyes to restore vision.8

Joining a clinical trial

The road from experimental treatments to standard care can be a long one. If you are interested in exploring an investigational therapy, talk with your eye doctor about enrolling in a clinical trial. They may be able to give you information about trials in your area and advise you about any breakthroughs that may work for you. But remember that clinical trials are not for everyone and do not guarantee effective treatment.11

Treatment results and side effects can vary from person to person. This treatment information is not meant to replace professional medical advice. Talk to your doctor about what to expect before starting and while taking any treatment.