Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

Macular Degeneration Research

Scientists believe that many factors can influence the development, severity, type, and rate of progression of macular degeneration. Genetics, diet, age, and environment may all play a role. Unfortunately, it is not well understood how these factors interact to lead to someone developing macular degeneration.

Understanding influencing factors

Current research seeks to discover which of these factors are controllable and which ones are not.

For instance, doctors have shown that those who smoke are much more likely to develop AMD. While it is clear that smoking causes damaging chemical reactions in various parts of the body, including the retina, the exact mechanism by which smoking leads to macular degeneration is still unclear.

As of early 2019, there were 233 clinical trials for macular degeneration registered with the National Institutes of Health.1

Biological causes

Researchers are looking into how the body operates on a cellular level so they can better understand what causes macular degeneration. They are studying biological processes such as immunity and inflammation, cholesterol metabolism, cardiovascular physiology, and how cells rebuild and respond to stress from oxygen free-radicals.

The hope is that by understanding how and why macular cells get damaged, someone may be able to develop better treatments, and potentially a cure.2

Gene therapy

Researchers studying age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and Stargardt disease hope to soon be able to replace genes that predispose an individual to these two types of retinal diseases with healthy genes.

Since Stargardt is thought to be caused by a single recessive gene, gene therapy shows great promise for a cure of this rare, but especially devastating form of macular degeneration.2

Stem cell therapy

Scientists are studying the possibility of using stem cells to regenerate certain macular cells in people with AMD. Stem cells are special cells capable of growing and changing into a number of different cell types, including retinal pigment epithelial cells.

In one experiment, researchers created a biodegradable patch infused with healthy retinal stem cells and placed it in the eyes of rats and pigs with AMD. This patch has been tested in animals with both wet and dry AMD.3-5

Many other stem cell experiments are underway, including a study in London for people with wet AMD.6 Stem cell therapy has generated great excitement and shows some early promise as a possible treatment to restore sight.

Retinal prosthesis

Currently, the Argus II® is the only commercially available FDA approved retinal prosthesis.

Originally developed for those with advanced retinitis pigmentosa, the artificial retina works by surgically implanting electrodes on the macula where many light-sensing cells have died. Then, a tiny camera mounted on the person’s eyeglasses captures images from the outside world, converts those images into electrical signals, and wirelessly sends those to the electrodes on the retina.

The brain perceives the electrical signals as patterns of light and dark, which the individual may then learn to interpret.7-10

Jessica Johns Pool | February 2019
  1. National Institutes of Health. Available at https://clinicaltrials.gov/search/open/condition=%22Macular+Degeneration%22. Accessed February 5, 2019.
  2. American Macular Degeneration Foundation. Research into Age-related Macular Degeneration. Available at: https://www.macular.org/latest-research. Accessed February 5, 2019.
  3. A stem-cell-derived eye patch for macular degeneration. Nature. . doi: 10.1038/d41573-019-00017-8.
  4. The London Project to Cure Blindness. Patients regain sight after being first to receive retinal tissue engineered from stem cells. Available at: http://www.thelondonproject.org/. Accessed February 5, 2019.
  5. Phase 1 clinical study of an embryonic stem cell–derived retinal pigment epithelium patch in age-related macular degeneration. Nature Biotechnoloyg. doi:10.1038/nbt.4114.
  6. American Printing House for the Blind. The First Stem Cell Clinical Trial for Wet Macular Degeneration Is Underway in London. Available at: https://www.visionaware.org/blog/visionaware-blog/the-first-stem-cell-clinical-trial-for-wet-macular-degeneration-is-underway-in-london-2093/12. Accessed February 5, 2019.
  7. American Macular Degeneration Foundation. Artificial Retina. Available at: https://www.macular.org/artificial-retina. Accessed February 5, 2019.
  8. American Society of Retina Specialists. FDA Approves World's First Artificial Retina. Available at: https://www.asrs.org/publications/retina-times/details/131/fda-approves-world-first-artificial-retina. Accessed February 5, 2019.
  9. Second Sight Announces First Age-Related Macular Degeneration Patient Receives the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System as Part of Groundbreaking Study. Available at: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20150722005421/en/Sight-Announces-Age-Related-Macular-Degeneration-Patient-Receives. Accessed February 5, 2019.
  10. National Institutes of Health. Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System Dry AMD Feasibility Study Protocol. Accessed February 5, 2019.