Timeline Part 1: Advances in Treatment & Care for People with Macular Degeneration

It’s Lin/Linda.  I created this page to go with Sue’s page Not Your Parents’ AMD.  Like some of you, I had a loved one with AMD.  It was my father who was diagnosed with AMD in 2005 at the age of 82.  At the time, I was living 700 miles away and I did not know much about the disease or at what stage he was diagnosed.  He progressed to geographic atrophy (GA), that much I knew.  He was the sole caregiver for my mother who had Alzheimer’s Disease.  He continued to drive (not safely), take care of her and the house.  He was never referred to vision rehabilitation or offered any help other than being told to use handheld magnifiers.

I wondered how things have changed since then which led me to do this timeline review.  Not only have there been advances in the medical end of the field but also in the technology that is allowing people to remain independent for as long as possible.  That is if a person learns how to use the various devices and apps available.

I’ve based the categories of time on an article Age-Related Macular Degeneration
1969 –2004: A 35-Year Personal Perspective by Stuart L. Fine, MD published in 2005.  He says “In 1969, patients with AMD constituted a small part of a typical ophthalmic practice. From 1969 to 2004, the prevalence of AMD has increased, and the methods of evaluation and treatment have changed dramatically.”

I know I have missed many events that have been critical to the history of the treatment & care of AMD.  There is SO much information out there and I’ve tried to use the most significant dates I could find.  Have a suggestion of what to include? Did I get a date wrong? Let me know in a comment or send me an email at light2sight5153@gmail.com.

1st Era: 1969–1979
  • Emergence of fluorescein fundus photography: test used in diagnosis of retinal diseases
  • Development of ‘hot’ (high power) laser photocoagulation, first treatment for wet AMD
  • Relationship of drusen to age-related macular degeneration
  • Other developments:
    • 1976-1977 first personal computers affordable for home use
    • more low vision aids:
      • 1960s large print books became available
      • 1976 large print calculators became available
      • 1969-1970 CCTV (closed caption TV) for reading aid
2nd Era: 1980–1994
  • Clinical trials to evaluate new treatments, especially laser photocoagulation (1979-1994)
  • Development of risk factor data from large and small epidemiologic studies (epidemology is looking for patterns & causes)
  • mid-1980s term ‘senile macular degeneration’ becomes ‘age-related macular degeneration’
  • Other developments:
    • 1982 Vitreous Society was founded; 1983 first meeting attended by 44 retinal specialists
    • 1991 OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography) test used in diagnosis of retinal diseases
    • mid 1980s name changed from ‘senile macular degeneration’ to ‘age-related macular degeneration’
    • 1992 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
    • 1983 first cell phones
    • 1991 World Wide Web for ‘surfing’ the Internet with easy-to-use browsers
    • low vision aids:
      • MaxiAids catalog of aids for orders from people with low vision & other impairments
    • technology/low vision aids:
      • 1982 DragonSystems founded Dragon NaturallySpeaking, speech to text
      • 1988 ZoomText was released which is software to magnify text on a computer screen
3rd Era: 1995–2003
  • Evaluation of radiation therapy for neovascular AMD, not proven to be effective
  • Assessment of pharmacologic interventions for neovascular AMD; Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) “cold” (low power laser) with Visudyne (first drug treatment;  2001)
  • Prevention trials: results AREDS released 2001
  • Other developments:
    • 1995 Amazon sells books online (1998 expands beyond just books; e-books 2000)
    • 1996 Google released
    • 1998 first e-book reader The Rocket
    • 2000 GPS available for civilians; 2001 personal navigation systems available like Garmin and TomTom
    • 2000 Microsoft & Amazon sell e-books
4th Era: 2004 – 2017
  • Completion of ongoing trials for neovascular AMD: FDA approval: Macugen 2004; Avastin 2004; Lucentis 2006; Eylea 2011
  • Earlier identification of eyes at risk: regular use of OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography) and other diagnostic tests
  • Prevention trials: results AREDS2 released 2013
  • Increased number of retinal specialists: eg, American Association of Retinal Specialists (ASRS), formerly Vitreous Society (see 1982 above), has 2700 members representing 60 countries.
  • Other developments:
    • 2011 First baby boomers turn 65
    • 2004 Facebook
    • 2013 first ‘bionic eye’ retinal implant, Argus II approved by FDA
    • technology:
      • 2007 Amazon Kindle e-reader; iPhone & Apple IOS
      • 2008 Android 1.0 & Android phone
      • 2010 Apple iPad
    • technology/low vision aids:
      • 2005 Apple VoiceOver for Mac users
      • 2009 VoiceOver added to iPhone IOS
      • 2010 FDA approved implantable telescope
      • smart glasses/wearable technology
      • 2014 KNFB Reader app for Apple & Android; 2017 for Windows 10
    • ongoing research areas:

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I Am Not a Mutant

This continues where page I Want to Be a Mutant ends.

I stand corrected. The genetic testing we had done by ArcticDx DID screen for complement factor I. I did not remember correctly. Mea culpa. I was in error.

Now the problem becomes this: I don’t have it. Everything else – OK, almost everything else – has one or two stars next to it. Next to complement factor I is a negative sign.

Unless I am also misinterpreting that, I would be a non-responder to ‘lamp stuff’. I guess someone else gets to be Storm. I am apparently not a mutant.

Not sure if that is good news or bad news. Reasonably sure being part of the lampalizumab study would keep me out of the stem cell study. I have always wanted the stem cells. I am also not excited about having a needle in my eye every month . Remember when I was talking about primal fears? One of them is bodily integrity. That is one of my biggies.

On the other hand, the stem cell study is taking forever to get off the ground. I could be effectively blind before they get their stuff together.

‘Tis a dilemma. Not sure why Regillo said he wants me on lampalizumab without knowing if I would be a responder. Not sure how much people without complement factor I actually responded. Not thinking it was much. Maybe he is just being a scientist and looking to experiment. I would not mind except for the needle part.

I really am not as brave as you wet folks; not at all. And that is especially true when I suspect I will get no benefit from it.

That said, you people who have had genetic testing, check your charts. The way Lin and I are reading them, the gene you are looking at is CFI, fourth from the bottom. If you have little stars, you should be a responder to lampalizumab. Take the chart to your doctor and inquire if I am accurate. Remember I have been wrong before, so check it out.

Of course, since ‘lamp stuff’ is only for slowing GA, you people with early AMD or wet AMD, won’t be candidates for it either. However, knowledge is power. If you have the gene and do progress to GA, you can respond quickly to get the right treatment.

You who have not had a genetic screening, hold on a bit. This is the first treatment for GA available and it is showing what looks like a relatively large difference in effectiveness across genotypes. I suspect insurance companies will start paying for genetic testing out of self-defense. [Lin/Linda here: Medicare HAS approved the ArcticDX testing.] I could not find frequency of the I allele quoted anywhere (and my eyes were crossing trying to read the genetics info, so I quit). However, I found the frequency of some other alleles associated with AMD to be about one in three. With two chances out of three the injections will not be effective in any given person, insurance companies will pretty much insist on genetic testing in the very near future. Meaning, my dears, they pay!

And that is that. I intend to have a talk with my local retinologist in August and Regillo in December. Those of you with research capabilities, keep an eye out for the phase 3 study journal article. I would like to read it.

And the journey continues. Continue reading “I Am Not a Mutant”

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I Want to Be a Mutant

I want to be a mutant. Oh, not like the X-Men although it might be cool to be Storm. I want to be a mutant because those are the people who respond the best to lampalizumab.

A friend emailed me an Associated Press piece entitled Drug shows progress against vision-robbing disease in seniors. Although this was the first time I have heard this, according to the article, ‘lamp stuff’ doesn’t do a bit better in people with the specific gene mutation, it does a LOT better!

I had heard that lampalizumab produced a 20% regression in lesion progression. That, folks, appears to be an average.

Those with the complement factor I risk allele actually had a 44% reduction in geographic atrophy progression. Wow!

To me, this is the first BIG indication genetic testing and AMD treatment have to be closely associated. I really do NOT want to be poked in the eye with a needle every month if the treatment won’t do any good. Likewise, I will be more amenable to said needle poking if I know I have the gene and I can slow my vision loss by nearly half. Not to mention how insurance companies would respond if they knew they could save money by eliminating non-responders from the pool.

Now, you need to remember all of the hard sciences are not my forte, but it seems to me complement factor I is a molecule that helps to trigger the action of the immune system. Remember all that stuff about whether or not AMD is an autoimmune disorder? It appears complement factor I is able to slow down some aspects of immunity that are running amok and attacking the good guys as well as the bad. Once again the theory appears to be our sight is being wiped out by friendly fire.

Musing here a moment, I have a very strong immune system. Never had mumps or chickenpox. Only had one form of the measles. In the 50s and 60s when I was small, kids got those things all of the time. Once more, I was the odd one. But what if my great immunity is not the result of a strength but actually of a weakness? To wit, I have an immune system with bad brakes. That is a thought. After vanquishing all the bad germs, it turned on itself. Put that with a strong family history of RA, another autoimmune disorder and it makes you wonder. Things that make you say Hmmmm….

Anyway, lampalizumab tightens loose brakes on immune reaction in those who have the complement factor I risk allele. It keeps the immune system from running wild and reduces the rate of damage about 44% in geographic atrophy.

I don’t believe the genetic testing we were given for trial measured the complement factor I risk allele. However, I should suspect changing the genes they highlight may not be that big a job. I also suspect making that adjustment would be a big moneymaker (This is America, after all).

So, next we should probably all find out if we are mutants. I have dibs on being Storm. Who wants to be Wolverine or Charles Xavier? [Can I be Wolverine? Love what he does with his nails!] Continue reading “I Want to Be a Mutant”

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Geez, It’s Dark in Here!

Back again. I don’t want to scrub the floor or score a test, soooo….a page!😁

Still checking out short blurbs from Modern Retina. Rosenfeld reported that low-luminance visual acuity deficits are predictive of the rate of geographic atrophy (GA) progression. Low-luminance visual acuity is basically night vision.

Following up on this I discovered that back in 2008 Janet Sunness found GA patients who reported poor night vision were much more likely to go legally blind than their GA peers who could see better at night. These people made up the quarter of their GA patients (visual acuity of 20/50 or better) who became legally blind within four years.

I believe them but still have a couple of questions. Recovery time from being ‘blinded’ by bright light is forever for me. Leave me there and come back in an hour.

Night vision is not bad. I prefer to walk without a flashlight because I see better to navigate. How can that be considering I am one of those who became legally blind?

The study measured night vision by seeing how much could be read in low light conditions. Reading in low light, I am not so good. Maybe that is the difference.

Anyway, if you cannot afford a lot of fancy testing, seeing how much you can read at dusk may give you some idea of how bad things are going to get. Just what we want to know; right? How bad things can really be.

And in other news, inflammation remains a target for the AMD researchers. Lampalizumab, aka ‘lamp stuff’, blocks complementary factor D to help control the alternative complement pathway (that thing again!) and reduce retinal inflammation. ‘Lamp stuff’ is said to work with carriers of the complement factor I at risk allele. Considering​ Regillo wants to start poking needles in my eyes come 2018, I cannot help but wonder if I actually have that gene. I would hate to be poked in the eye every month to no good end.

Maybe I would rather use POT. 😋That’s POT 4. POT4, aka APL 2, blocks all three pathways of complement action at the same time. They are looking to develop an intravitreous shot that would be very long-term. None of this four to six weeks business.

And talking about shots, I just lost the article somewhere in this mess (not domestic goddess material; remember?) but I also read a short article taking about a new, medication delivery system they are working on in the UK. This team has been working on developing a little, bitty molecule that can permeate the layers of the eye and deliver medication to the retina through daily eye drops and not monthly shots. Not only will the people getting the shots approve, but the NHS (National Health Service) will approve because it will cut the number of office visits way down. Save money. Ka ching! [Lin/Linda: never fear, I found the article, click here.]

So there you have a review of some of the articles I pulled off of Modern Retina. They have lots in the works. Some of it is promising and some proves not to be, but they are zeroing in on treatments (plural because with a condition caused by multiple genes I believe there will be multiple avenues of attack). We are getting closer to answers. There is hope. Continue reading “Geez, It’s Dark in Here!”

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Reading Modern Retina

Never thought I would be skimming back issues of Modern Retina, but here I am! Let us get back to some of the science stuff.

Amyloid beta is a major component of plague found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s. There has been some suspicion AMD and Alzheimer’s are related at a genetic level. A recent study completed by Cheryl Guttman Krader failed to show any positive effects of injecting an antibody that targets amyloid beta into the eyes of those of us with geographic atrophy.

For the time being this means this line of inquiry will be abandoned or re-worked. Proof of concept did not occur and these researchers might go on to investigate something else.

Why are negative findings good news? One less blind alley to investigate! Since we don’t know which ideas may bear fruit, they all have to be investigated. Eventually we get to only the ones that have the most promise. Scientific method.

And another reason I think this finding is good news? It sort of suggests the Alzheimer’s and AMD connection may not be so cut and dry. Phew!

Here is another failure in proof of concept. Aflibercept is called Eylea when it is used as an inhibitor of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF – read “one of the things that makes the extra veins grow in AMD”). Michelle Dalton tried implanting stem cells in the eyes of patients who had been getting Aflibercept. She hoped the stem cell would produce the natural vascular endothelial growth factor and make the shots unneeded.

Unfortunately, many more patients than she had hoped required rescue doses of the drug. However, she also had people who kept the stem cells alive and these imported new stem cells did produce some of the Anti-VEGF molecule. Quantities were just too far below a therapeutic dose.

While this may be a failed experiment on the face of things, it is not all bad. Knowing there was some production of the desired molecules means this procedure may be very helpful once they figure out why it worked the little bit it did. Magnifying that effect may lead to fewer injections.

Last one, David S. Boyer wrote a review on multiple strategies being investigated for treating dry AMD. While many protective strategies for our photoreceptors and RPEs have failed, one they are still looking at with interest is brimonidine, brand name Allergen. Allergen is once again an intravitreally administered drug. (That is needle in the eye. We appear to be destined to join our wet AMD friends in that fate!) Coming out of phase 1 trials, brimonidine looks good. Next for it is phase 2, proof of concept. Will it perform as hoped?

Glatiramer acetate is looking good for reducing drusen. Glatiramer is used to treat multiple sclerosis, a disease in which the immune system ways away at the covering on the nerves. The theory is that glatiramer acts as a decoy to mitigate the autoimmune reaction. This treatment is based on the idea AMD really is an autoimmune disease.

There has been some evidence glatiramer reduces drusen, but Dr. Boyer warned us drusen can become fewer on their own. Drusen regression.

And that is a topic for another page.

Continue reading “Reading Modern Retina”

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BIG News!

Woke up with a start at 2 am last night. Probably several things.

First thing that happened was a call from one of my contracts. She had called my third place of employment to schedule an evaluation and was told I did not work there anymore!

News to me! Now, I don’t get there a lot but the plan was for me to go and do a case or two when called. Maybe something like once every six weeks or so. I was never told I was being fired!

Of course it turns out someone got something wrong but it did get me to thinking. Once again, how does one graciously bow out or – hopefully equally graciously – be shown the door? Inquiring minds.

The second thing that has me a little anxious is my big ‘field trip’ tomorrow. I am going to do some sightseeing on Manhattan with an acquaintance from school. First time that far away from home without my husband since my sight loss. I know it can be done, but it is still a little scary.

Third thing: I saw Regillo yesterday. My eyes are getting worse slowly. (I am not so sure about the slowly part!) He confirmed scotomata (aka blind spots) get darker but did not necessarily say they go black. He said that he would not expect a central vision loss to cover 60 degrees of arc. That wide a loss would be ‘extreme’. Those two answers at least get us slightly closer to settling two of my burning questions from this Spring.

The big news, though, is he wants to try me on lampalizumab next winter. It appears the phase 3 clinicals are going to wind down by the end of the year and phase 4 trials will be starting.

People, the numbers of subjects in phase 4 trials is BIG. HUGE! Phase 4 trials take place after the FDA approved the marketing of a new drug. The drug is made available to the public through local physicians. They look for effects and side effects in diverse populations.

What this means for you is simply this: the first actual TREATMENT for geographic atrophy may only be six months away! This is the first breakthrough!

Lampalizumab is an injectible drug. It has been proven to slow the progression of geographic atrophy and to “reduce the area of geographic atrophy” by 20%. Dosing occurs monthly or every six weeks.

Will I do it? Probably. I really believe stem cell replacement of RPEs is the way for me to go, but it is taking forever and I don’t have time for forever. Lampalizumab can be administered locally and would avoid lots of trips to Philly. I don’t like the idea of intravenous injections but I don’t like the idea of a vitrectomy either! A 20% decrease in disease progression might win me enough time (and macula!) to have a more successful intervention later.

If you have dry AMD and geographic atrophy, it might be worth your while to broach the subject of lampalizumab with your retinologist. Let him know you are interested. This could just be the start of something big for all of us.😁

Continue reading “BIG News!”

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Not Your Parents’ AMD

3 pm Monday and so far it is a good day. The pool guy is working on my new liner. The funny thingee on my tummy is a normal, benign growth and the transportation company got new vans with fancy logos painted on them. No more confusion with two dozen, white vans. Life is looking up!

Lin told me there was a conversation thread in the Facebook group about parents who struggled with AMD. People remember what their mothers and fathers went through and they are determined not to become like them.

I am reasonably sure my father’s vision problems were AMD. The more I think about it his father’s vision problems may have been AMD. I remember both of them using a handheld lens to read the newspaper as well as the really strange interpretations Daddy would have when it came to TV shows. I have no idea what HE was watching but it was not the same thing I was watching!

I have said it a couple of dozen times and I will say it again: this is the best time in the history of the human race to be losing our sight. Absolutely the best. You may not realize it. You may remember what you saw and think we are doomed to go there too but we are not. We really are not.

I tried a handheld magnifier for a couple of weeks. Not doing that again. They are very inefficient. I have my CCTV, my handheld reader and my iPad which can go in the Justand.

[Lin:Linda: To see what Sue uses on a daily basis, check out these pages: A Day in the Life and A Day in the Life:Work Day.]

I can get newspapers on my phone and books from BARD (there are other sources, too, as well as magazines which are available).  I’m able to take a picture of pretty much any text I want and my KNFB Reader will read it to me. The zoom feature on my iPad will allow me to read email and research pretty efficiently. ZoomText allows me to work. (refer to the “Day in the Life” pages above)

If I want to look at something a little distance away I can use my max TV glasses or my monocular. Not too bad.

Depending upon when Lin publishes this page, you either have or will be hearing about audio description services (coming soon!). If my father had had those for the TV we would have been “on the same page” a lot more than we were when we watched programs together. Audio description can also allow you to go to the movies and live theater and actually know what is going on.

Do I want to be losing my sight? Hell, no! This is not a walk in the park but it is not what Daddy endured either. Just the same he made it into his mid 80s and managed to take care of himself until other issues brought him down. If he could do it without all of the toys, I can do it.  [Lin/Linda: My dad had geographic atrophy & took care of my mother who had Alzheimer’s using several different handheld magnifiers & a few other low vision aids.]

Yet another reason to be optimistic is all of the exciting research happening. We are poised for a veritable explosion of treatments. Not cures, mind you, but treatments. Thirty years ago there was nothing.

[Lin/Linda: To see what’s in the research pipeline, click here.]

What can you do? Be willing. Use what has been provided. If you put that iPad your son gave you in the drawer you have absolutely no grounds for complains. Bluntly put? Your extra suffering will be your own damn fault.

What else? Volunteer. Sign up for clinical trials. Join support groups. Share your knowledge and skills.

Life – and this vision loss bit included – is the craziest thing you will ever experience and none of us get out alive. Make the most of it while you can.

Continue reading “Not Your Parents’ AMD”

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