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MDR Grantees Investigate Vitamins and Diet for AMD Prevention

Martha Snyder Taggart, BrightFocus Editor, Science Communications
  • Science News
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This research was supported by BrightFocus

Editor’s note: Thanks to the generosity of MDR donors, 17 new grants totaling $2.6 million were recently awarded to vision scientists. We will be bringing you details of this research throughout the year. Below, a description of two new grant projects.

MDR grantees are looking at new ways to stop AMD. Two, in particular, are hoping that vitamins and diet will provide solutions.

Gaofeng Wang, PhD
With AMD on the rise, the world needs protection, and “I am dedicated to testing whether vitamin C can be such a prevention,” says 2017 MDR grantee Gaofeng Wang, PhD, of the University of Miami.

As an antioxidant, vitamin C repairs damage to retinal cells. That explains its role in the AREDS supplements for mid-stage AMD.

Dr. Wang and colleagues discovered that, even better, vitamin C also regulates the genome, and might work at an earlier stage to “turn off” production of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which triggers fragile, leaky blood vessels in wet AMD.

Injections of anti-VEGF drugs counteract VEGF, but don’t stop its production. If vitamin C can inhibit VEGF in an animal model, Dr. Wang’s work could give rise to efforts to develop a new, inexpensive therapy to prevent wet AMD.

Headshot of  Sheldon Rowan, PhD
Another one-of-a-kind project led by 2017 MDR grantee Sheldon Rowan, PhD, of the Tufts University Laboratory for Nutrition and Vision Research, Boston, will document the microbiome’s role in AMD prevention. Dr. Rowan is the 2017 recipient of the Elizabeth Anderson Award for Macular Degeneration Research.

Healthy bacteria and other microorganisms living in our bodies, also known as a microbiome, contribute to health and immune function; yet “only in the last year have the first connections been made between our gut bacteria and AMD,” Dr. Rowan says.

Dr. Rowan is testing whether too much white sugar and starch (ie, high glycemic diets) alter the microbiome, whereas low-glycemic diets help maintain it and protect against AMD-associated inflammation.

If results from an animal model show that the microbiome is indeed protective, next steps might be to identify specific bacteria that are most helpful. Ultimately this could lead to new probiotic treatments and drugs for humans.

Dr. Rowan already follows a low-glycemic diet, something that happened after he enrolled in a clinical study, lost weight, and started eating more fiber, fruits, vegetables, and fish.

“My whole family now eats a healthy diet,” Dr. Rowan said, “and we hope to have bright and clear vision for life.”