Cataracts and AMD

Hunting around for a good topic and AMD and cataracts popped up in the search. Daddy had both and I would suspect some of you have both, too. Is there a relationship between AMD and cataracts? If so, what is it?

Turns out those are excellent questions. The experts are falling on different sides of the fence as to whether or not there may be a relationship between them.

Back in the earlier years of this century (2002) the good folks in Wisconsin, the Beaver Dam Eye Study people, again looked at their subjects after ten years had passed. Statistically, there was an indication that cataracts alone are associated with early AMD. There was also a statistical correlation between cataract surgery and late AMD.

Once again, we are looking at correlation. Correlation does not assume causality. Want a giggle over crazy correlations? Go to the website Spurious Correlations for some fun graphs. You will quickly see how just because things correlate they may not cause one another.

Anyway, like I said, they are still casting around to try to get some definitive answers on this question. The Chesapeake Watermen Study found a correlation between having cataracts and AMD but the Framingham Eye Study and some early Blue Mountain work did not.

But what about a correlation between cataract surgery and late AMD? Beaver Dam found cataract surgery before baseline (initially study measures) was associated with increased risk of late AMD. In fact, eyes that had cataract surgery were four times as likely to develop geographic atrophy and three times as likely to develop wet AMD! Holy freakin’ moley! How do you like that for being between a rock and a hard place?

Of course, like, I said, there is no certainty in any of this yet. In AREDS Report 25, Chew et al reported no correlation between cataract surgery and ARM. Hard to know who to believe.

So, what to do? No one is saying to go blind with cataract now rather than wait and go blind with AMD later. Do what you have to do to see.

FYI Blue Mountain, fortunately or unfortunately, flipped over to the significant correlation camp in reviewing results of a 2006 study. While that may not be great news for those with cataracts, Blue Mountain also shared yet another point they agree on with Beaver Dam. They discovered nonphakic eyes had a three times greater risk of developing late stage AMD as opposed to phakic eyes.

I know. I know. Don’t get your panties in a bunch.  Here is the explanation: in phakic cataract surgery, there is a small incision made in the front of the eye and the artificial lens is implanted. The natural lens is not removed. In nonphakic cataract surgery, the lens is removed.

Talk to your doctor, but as it stands now, given the choice, the phakic procedure sounds like a better choice to me. Might decrease your chances of advanced AMD.

Written August 7th, 2017

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Worldwide Warriors

Some of this is a repeat of information I shared a few months back, but a little review is not a bad thing. I know we have readers in low and middle-income countries and I started to wonder about the state of things where these readers are.

Even though most of our readers are in the US, UK and Canada, we should not ignore people just because they don’t make up large numbers; right? Right!

Found the WHO site on vision and blindness. That is as in World Health Organization and not Doctor Who, although over the years I have been partial to Tom Baker and Matt Smith. Bless the BBC. But I digress AGAIN.

The World Health Organization says there are 285 million visually impaired in the world. 39 million of that number are blind. This is two million more than a population estimate I found for Tokyo. 90% of the world’s visually impaired live in low-income settings. 82% of the people with blindness are over age 50.

To repeat, most of the vision problems in the world could be solved with glasses. That’s 43% of that 285 million or….let me get the calculator, 122,550,025 needed pairs of glasses. Unoperated cataracts come in second at 33% and glaucoma comes in third at 2%. Age-related Macular degeneration comes in down the list.

WHO is in the coordination role for fighting world blindness. Among other initiatives WHO has partnered with Lions Club International to establish a global network of 45 childhood blindness centers in 35 countries. (Actually, the number may be greater than that because the article was written in 2014).

And talking about the Lions Club, the Lions Club doesn’t just dabble in vision support, they are into it up to their own eyeballs around the world. Need a vision hospital in Nepal? Try Butwal. The Lions are there. How about the state of Telengana in India? The Sunyaet Lions have their own hospital.( I think. I need work on my knowledge of Indian geography!) Kenya? SightFirst eye hospital is in Nairobi.

The Lions have dozens and dozens of sites, most of them in developing nations. If you are in need of sight services, contact the Lions Club. The chances are good you can find help.

And once again…is there hope? Are these warriors against blindness fighting a losing battle? In order, yep and nope. The battle is being won. In the last 20 years there has been a decrease in visual impairment worldwide. This is in spite of the aging of the population. The decrease has been primarily due to efforts to eradicate infections causing blindness but other efforts have bearing fruit as well.

So, there you go. WHO and the Lions Club may not own that all around wonder tool, a sonic screwdriver like Doctor Who, but they are still managing to do great things for people with vision loss. If you are living in a developing nations, WHO and the Lions Club may represent your hope.

written July 26th, 2017

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Studying the Study

Lin found the paper discussing results from the phase 2 study of lampalizumab. It is a little dense but I will try to pre-digest it a bit for you. [Lin/Linda: we’ve been calling it ‘lamp stuff’.]

The study design itself was somewhat basic. There were two independent variables and two controls or shams. Independent variables are the things the researchers are manipulating. In this case it was two dosage schedules. Shots of the drug were given every month and every other month.

Controls, or sham treatment groups, were given shots on the same schedules. However, their shots did not contain lampalizumab. They just thought they did.

Overall, when the every month dosage of lampalizumab people were compared to the every month fake treatment people (sham condition), their rate of degeneration was slowed by a fifth. That is where the 20% number comes from.

However, when the researchers looked at their raw scores, they made a discovery. Some of the subjects absolutely rocked it! They were showing decreases of 44% in rate of deterioration. Others did not differ at all from the controls. Their eyes just continued to get worse at the usual rate. What the hey?

Thinking the difference might be genetic, the researchers thought about which genes to consider. They ended up with the complement factor I at-risk allele as a possible suspect.

An allele is half a gene pair. Genes come in pairs; remember? One from Mom and one from Dad. Alleles can be matched or mismatched. Terms are homozygotes and heterozygotes, but that’s not important in this case. It wasn’t important to the researchers either. They decided to look at people with one and two ‘bad’ alleles of complement factor I.

When they put everyone with good CFI alleles in one pile and everyone with at least one bad one in another pile, they made another discovery. It was the people with the bad CFI alleles who had responded to the lampalizumab. There appeared to be something about that gene that interacted with the lampalizumab in a way that slowed things down.

Looking back at their numbers, the researchers decided all of the ‘work’ done in the initial, whole group was done by the bad CFI allele people. There was an overall difference of 20%; right? But remember we are talking arithmetic averages here. If half of your group ‘improves’ by 40% but the rest of the group improves by 0% when you add them together and divide by 2, you get 20%. 20% is sort of misleading. No research subject showed a 20% rate decrease. They were either at somewhere around 44% or somewhere around 0%.

There are some things that need to be further studied. The number of subjects was not large and they need to replicate things with lots more people, for example. However, for right now the takeaway message for us is this: as suspected, AMD is looking like not one disease but a family of diseases. It is created by several different genetic flaws. The lampalizumab phase 2 study results suggest this drug will only be good for the AMD ‘family member’ that is caused by complement factor I at-risk allele. Those of us – like me – who do not have bad CFI alleles will have to wait for another breakthrough.

Those of you with CFI at-risk allele can rejoice! It looks as if they have found the first real TREATMENT and it is for you! Congratulations! We are all happy for you and want to follow you very soon.

If you really want to look at the scientific paper from the study, click here.

written July 24th, 2017

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A Dozen Years of Progress

Here I am again, trying to offer a balanced look at AMD. Rumor has it the wet folks are wondering when they will get consistent coverage of their issues. Dunno.

When are we getting someone with wet AMD to write for us? You write. We publish. Until then, I can throw a few pages together, but my problem is dry. I cannot even begin to speak to the subject as well as someone with wet could. Consider it.

Found an article from BrightFocus Foundation. Title: How Effective are Age-Related Macular Degeneration Treatment? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I like how the author points out there were very few treatments a scant 12 years ago. As the baby boomers we continue to drive many, many things in the world. Pig through the python; yes? We are now losing our vision and unless something is done, we are going to break the bank with our care needs. People respond to numbers, large numbers.

Which brings me to, did you know there are something like 200,000 new cases of CNV (wet AMD) every year in the United States alone? That is from CATT at 2 years: the facts.

I got to the CATT study because the BrightFocus article (above) referred to it. It is a 2010 study that seems to remain pertinent today. It was mentioned with ANCHOR, MARINA and HORIZON. These are all efficacy studies for your ‘shots’.

In the ANCHOR and MARINA studies Lucentis was proven to improve vision several lines on the chart. This was in the short term. The HORIZON and CATT studies were longer term and in these some gains were lost.

The VIEW trials suggested Eylea every eight weeks is superior to Lucentis every four weeks. However, more study is needed.

Avastin is a cancer drug. Injected into the body, it inhibits growth of new blood vessels in tumors. It tries to starve those, nasty things. Off-label use of Avastin for CNV has shown similar efficacy to Lucentis.

A big selling point for Avastin is cost. The article suggests it is $50 a shot. The others are thirty to forty times that much! Insurance problems? Talk to your retinologist about Avastin.

The BrightFocus article ends with good news. Did I mention I like this guy’s attitude? He reported a more recent CATT finding was 50% of patients retained 20/40 vision in the treated eye five years after the start of anti-VEGF treatments. Only 20% had 20/200 or worse! What do you think of those apples?

Again, these gains are in little more than a decade. How can you doubt more great things are coming and coming fast?

OK. How’d I do?

written July 1st, 2017

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Hindsight is 20/20

Good evening! How are you all?

Lin has noticed I seem to have written soooo many pages they are overwhelming and confusing some people. She feels this is particularly true for some of the newbies who probably feel like they have walked in on the (boring and confusing) middle of a movie. [Lin/Linda: to be clear, those are Sue’s words! ::grin::]

Understood. Some of you are back in the shock and doom phrase and I am talking about getting newspapers on your phones and other trivial matters. Who wants to hear about that sort of thing while your world is unraveling?

In the interest of pointing you towards something that might actually be helpful, Lin is republishing some earlier pages for your attention and discussion. And I – always helpful – am going to add to the confusion by writing another page!?

This page will have a catchy title thanks to Lin, but right now I am going to call it “What I know now that I wish I had known a year and a half ago”.

First, you are not going everything black and dark blind.

It is not good but neither is it quite that bad. You are losing central vision. Things will not be good for anywhere from about 15 to 60 degrees of arc. Since normal visual fields are 170 or so degrees of arc, you have the potential to lose about a third of your vision. Not anything to cheer about but better than 100%.

You may not be doomed to progress to end stage AMD.

About 15% of patients become ‘wet’. About 15% progress to geographic atrophy. That means you – starting out with drusen and a diagnosis of early AMD – have a 85% chance of dodging the proverbial bullet for end stage AMD. You may very well not get as bad as I am and a year and a half after my second eye went to hell, I am still functional. [Lin/Linda: a person can have both wet AMD and geographic atrophy in the same eye.  I don’t what that does to the %, if anything.]

You did not cause this.

Yes, AMD is caused but it was not caused by anything you did or did not do. The causes are in your genes. This is a heritable disease. There are dozens if not hundreds of genes that are being investigated to try to figure out how AMD is created. It appears AMD may just be the result of a genetic ‘perfect storm’ and there is no one to blame.

There may come a time you are seeing things.

I saw some odd stuff when my brain was working overtime to assign meaning to the faulty images my eyes were sending it. You are not psychotic (I hope you are not psychotic). This is Charles Bonnet Syndrome. When your brain gives up trying to assign meaning to false signals you will stop seeing weird ‘stuff’. In the meantime, enjoy the fantasy.

Point number last: There is an amazing amount of hope for treatment and eventually a cure for AMD.

Research is going on everyday. New discoveries are announced with regularity. The medical community is hot on the trail of something that will arrest the progression and may even reverse this disease. All we have to do is hold on.

OK. Those were my biggie when I first lost my second eye. What are you worried about? Please share and we can discuss it. Continue reading “Hindsight is 20/20”

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Avoidable Blindness

I still get National Geographic even if I don’t read it cover to cover like I used to. I mean to get back to it – I really do; I love it! – but CCTV lights shining on glossy pages are a bit much. However, when my husband handed me a pile of old Nat Geos (National Geographics) and I saw the cover of September, 2016, I had to read at least one article. The title was The End of Blindness: Winning the Fight to See.

My first thought was “We have made the big time!” Cover of Nat Geo is absolutely the big time in my book. Then I thought “Everything they are saying about the incredible research and the discoveries made really is true.” Nat Geo for me is sort of like Walter Cronkite; if they say it, it is true.

The article has some scary statistics: 39 million people are not able to see, as in no functional vision at all. 246 million have reduced vision. That is rather a lot of people.

The article went on and talked about the research that is occurring. It talked about genetic engineering and stem cells. They also mentioned two different types of ‘bionic eyes’.

In addition, it mentioned that Sanford Greenberg has pledged $3 million in gold to the person who contributes the most to ending blindness by his end date, 2020, of course! (Better get busy on your cure projects!) The Audacious Goal Initiative continues going strong, handing out money to worthy research projects. People are putting their money where their mouths are and getting behind this campaign.

Eliminate all blindness by 2020? Great goal, but probably not attainable. Curing avoidable blindness might be possible. Avoidable blindness?

AMD is my condition and my passion. I am doing well but I would do a heck of a lot better if someone found a cure for this stuff. Problem is, according to Nat Geo, AMD is a piddly 1% of the total picture! It is important to you and me but it barely makes a blip on the world radar.

If our condition is so insignificant in the big picture, what is significant? Refraction errors. That is 43% of the problem. Nearly half of the vision problems of the human race could be cured by giving people glasses.

Guess that means we all get to dig in drawers and find our old spectacles. Call your local Lions Club to find the nearest collection box. Or better yet, Walmart Optical is supposed to collect them. Drop them off the next time you go shopping. Better they are helping someone to see than sitting in a drawer for the next decade or two.

And if you really want to get rid of more sight problems, try cataracts at 33%. In the developing world people with cataracts get to go blind. No one to do the operations is part of the problem. Nat Geo says Niger has 18 million people and 7 ophthalmologists! The other problem is funding. Subsistence farming does not allow one to pay for medical specialists.

One last plug and I am out of here. Nat Geo mentions a worthy charity: SEE International. Stands for Surgical Eye Expeditions. They provide cataract surgeries free of charge.

Done here. Bed time! Night! Continue reading “Avoidable Blindness”

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Research

Not being one to be told there’s nothing I can do about something, I went back to my research. There seem to be a couple of different avenues of research. They were working on lasers to blast the drusen, aka piles of eye-poop but it looked to me like a hoarder intervention. Somebody comes in and cleans up the mess one time. Problem solved for now but not later. They would have a clean place to live but would eventually start to become messy again. The second thing I found looked more like the Merry Maids that were cleaning up regularly. However, it did not solve the problem of who is going to feed the Master photoreceptors? The third option was to essentially put the RPE Servants that were left on steroids. The live ones would work harder but would that not mean they wear out more quickly?

Click here for a list of clinical trials studying dry AMD

There’s research focused on cleaning up the ‘eye-poop’ called drusen.

There was one I liked, OCATA, originally known as Advanced Cell Therapy (ACT) , that was trying to replace RPEs. They were actually giving the little guys some help in order to save the Master photoreceptors. The way they were doing this was with stem cells.

There’s research using stem cells to replace the RPEs.

Although some people see stem cell research as cutting up dead babies, this is not the case. There are several lines of stem cells that have been derived from fertilized eggs that were never implanted. Some of these lines of stem cells are 20 years old. They have been massaged and manipulated so that there would never be the possibility that they could become functioning human beings. If they were not being used for research they would be flushed down the proverbial toilet.

Stem cells can be harvested from old fertilized eggs not dead babies.

The research that interested me–and still interests me–involves stem cells that have been developed specifically to become RPE cells. The theory is that replacing RPE cells with new ones and giving the little Servant guys some help will allow more photoreceptors to live and turn light into sight.

So where, pray tell, does one find someone to do this procedure? The problem is that this is very new research. It has worked on rats and other traditional lab animals (and you college psychology students, I am not speaking of sophomores). However, work on human subjects is just beginning. At the time of this writing, hospitals in Florida, Massachusetts, California and Pennsylvania as well as in foreign locales such as London and China have only completed phase 1 research. Phase 1 of any clinical study is the safety and tolerability portion.

Warning: there are doctors and clinics in the US that are offering costly stem cell treatments that have NOT been proven safe or effective through research.  Before you enter into any stem cell treatment, please do your homework!  Click here for an excellent article called Nine Things to Know About Stem Cell Treatments.

Click here for current research using stem cells for Macular Degeneration

Phase 1 results have been extremely promising. For those who are capable of using the web, there is a Lancet article by Schwartz and Regillo that summarizes the study. Essentially, they found the stem cells did not do anything strange or different when implanted in eyes. Preliminary data suggested that it was safe and tolerable. Even more exciting, they found positive therapeutic effects. A great number of the people who had volunteered and participated in the study showed cessation of deterioration and even improvement.

Phase 1 trials using stem cells is VERY promising.

So why not replace the photoreceptors as well as the RPEs? After all, when the RPEs die, the photoreceptors die. Would it not be reasonable to replace them both?

Unfortunately, medical science is not to this point as of yet. They have been successful in growing photoreceptors in the lab. They have been successful in implanting photoreceptors in the eyes of rats. The only problem is that these will not connect into the neural net. It’s sort of like having invented a cell phone without having a tower for it to work through. You can talk on your phone all day but the message goes nowhere.

They can grow photoreceptors in the lab, implanting them in rats but they won’t connect to the neural net.

That said, they are still working on it very diligently. Some of the literature suggests that it will be quite awhile. However, it will be coming.

If you are interested in seeing some of the studies that are being done on eyes and other medical research, I would invite you to go to the clinical trials website. It is a government website that lists all sorts of fascinating things. Many of them are looking for clients.

You will discover that there are dozens, if not more, of studies that are related to eyes. There are multiple studies related to Age-Related Macular Degeneration. So why would that be?

Someone, I am not remembering who at the moment, has launched the Audacious Goal Project. The Audacious Goal Project is aiming to eradicate blindness in the lifetime of some of you younger folks.

Click here to learn more about the Audacious Goal Challenge in Vision Research and Blindness.

Like the name says it is an audacious goal!

Why now?

And questioning again, why now? What is happening that vision is such a hot topic that we need a national program to deal with blindness?

The truth of the matter is, the pig through the population python is getting towards the end. We baby boomers from the 50s and the 60s have always presented challenges. We have always been very popular and our hot topics have been the topics of the nation. When I was a little girl, they were building elementary schools left and right. Then everything was sweet 16 and on through my lifespan. Right now, everything is security call buttons and retirement accounts. We drive the economy.

We baby boomers from the 50s and 60s have always presented challenges.

Because there are so many of us, our concerns are essential. One of our big concerns is vision. According to my research, AMD is the leading cause of blindness in the developed world. In the United States alone there are as many as 11 million people who have some form of AMD.  They are predicting there will be 22 million by 2050! 

This is going to be a massive drain on the country. When somebody suddenly realized what the numbers were going to look like, they decided they had better do something to ameliorate the problem. Thus, all the research.

Click here for more facts & figures

As many as 11 million people in the United States have some form of age-related macular degeneration. This number is expected to double to nearly 22 million by 2050.

Continue reading “Research”

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