Vision Problems to Rise as Baby Boomers Age

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By Staff Reports

(DGIwire) – Baby boomers have seen dramatic shifts in society over the past few decades. But as they get older, their ability to see might degrade. In June 2016, the deputy clinical director of the National Eye Institute (NEI), a division of the National Institutes of Health, told the Pocono Record that as the youngest baby boomers turn 65 by 2029, the number of people diagnosed with visual impairment or blindness is expected to rise—eventually doubling to more than eight million by 2050.

A condition called age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of vision loss among people 60 and older. In 2010, it affected 23.5 million people globally, according to the NEI. There are two types of this eye condition: dry and wet macular degeneration.

Most people with macular degeneration have the dry form, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). This condition is caused by aging and thinning of the tissues of the macula. It begins when tiny yellow or white pieces of fatty protein called drusen form under the retina. Eventually, the macula may become thinner and stop working properly. Vision loss is usually gradual with the dry form, says the AAO.

Meanwhile, about 10 percent of people with macular degeneration have the wet form, which can cause more damage to central or detail vision than the dry form, the AAO reports. It occurs when abnormal blood vessels begin to grow underneath the retina. These new blood vessels may leak fluid or blood, blurring or distorting central vision. The longer the abnormal vessels leak or grow the more risk there is of causing damage to the retina that results in permanent vision loss.

Some research is focused on the proteins that trigger the process in wet AMD that may cause irreversible retinal scarring, often a secondary component of this later-stage disease. The goal is to see if it is possible to regulate or block these proteins in the first place. RXi Pharmaceuticals is evaluating this approach.

“A naturally occurring phenomenon called RNA interference—‘RNAi’ for short—can target and destroy specific RNAs before they can serve as templates for the generation of 100s to 1000s copies of the coded protein,” says Dr. Geert Cauwenbergh, President and CEO of RXi Pharmaceuticals. “We have developed a therapeutic platform of self-delivering RNAi compounds, called sd-rxRNA®. The first of these compounds, RXI-109, is in development to target connective tissue growth factor (CTGF), a key regulator of scar formation in the eye and skin.”

The company is conducting an ongoing Phase 1/2 clinical trial in patients with wet AMD to evaluate the safety and clinical activity of RXI-109 to prevent the progression of retinal scarring.

New therapies may become available to help those grappling with vision loss as more is learned about the mechanisms behind wet AMD—and that’s good news for baby boomers.

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