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New Vision Disease Finding Underscores Importance of Innovative Basic Research

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BrightFocus-Funded Research Yields Potential for New Treatments

CLARKSBURG, MD—A study published today in Science Translational Medicine sheds dramatic new light on a component of the immune system that can help prevent, not cause, damage to blood vessels in the eye. This is an example of the benefits of funding basic researchers who want to pursue innovative—even controversial—avenues of discovery, say officials at BrightFocus Foundation.

BrightFocus, a non-profit organization, helped fund research by Sarah Doyle, Ph.D., Matthew Campbell, Ph.D., Peter Humphries, Ph.D., and others at Trinity College in Dublin, on the role of component IL-18 in macular degeneration. The scientists found that IL-18—typically linked to inflammation, and thus seen as a cause of abnormal blood vessel growth in this eye disease—actually helped suppress damage to blood vessels behind the eye’s retina.

“Supporting innovative research to solve the riddles of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the only way we’re going to stop or slow this disease,” said BrightFocus President and CEO Stacy Pagos Haller. “We have a long history of identifying, and funding early, the most promising research and researchers, including out-of-the-box thinkers willing to pursue novel areas of discovery.”

BrightFocus support was directed to earlier studies by the same authors and the organization is currently funding lead author Doyle for related research. These scientists hypothesized that, while inflammation clearly contributes to AMD, macular degeneration therapy might pinpoint very specific locations and effects of inflammation, and develop a targeted IL-18 treatment.

“Today’s news represents an exciting leap forward on how best to use our body’s natural defenses to shield us from the effects of AMD,” noted Guy Eakin, Ph.D., BrightFocus Vice President for Scientific Affairs.

The researchers also showed that in an animal model, IL-18 could be administered in a non-invasive way by traditional injection, an easier method than the eye injections currently used in treatments.

Macular degeneration, which can interfere with straight-ahead (central) vision, is a leading cause of irreversible vision loss throughout the world.

BrightFocus Foundation is a nonprofit organization supporting research and public education to help eradicate brain and eye diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, macular degeneration and glaucoma. For more information, call 1-800-437-2423