Breakthrough in Understanding Risk Factors for Blindness

By Hamodia Staff

A building on the campus of Tel Aviv University. (David Shay)

YERUSHALAYIM – Researchers at Tel Aviv University announced on Monday that they have identified a new genetic risk factor for the complex eye disease AMD (Age-related Macular Degeneration), a leading cause for loss of eyesight at an advanced age. For the first time, they identified proteins that play a key role in the development and functioning of the tissue affected by the disease, found their exact sites in the genome, and discovered the connection between variations in these genomic regions and the risk for AMD.

Prof. Ashery-Padan, a co-leader of the project, explains: “One of the greater challenges in genetic research today is decoding the genetic mechanisms of complex diseases caused by a combination of several different genetic and environmental factors (rather than an identifiable defect in a single gene). Diabetes, bowel diseases, and various mental illnesses are just a few examples. In our study we chose to focus on AMD, which causes degeneration of the central retina – a major cause of loss of vision at an advanced age in developed countries.”

The study focused on the cells of a layer of tissue called retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE), which supports photoreceptors in the retina, and is essential for their initial development as well as their survival throughout an individual’s lifetime.

According to the researchers, this tissue is affected right from the earliest stages of AMD. Prof. Ashery-Padan summed up: “We identified two proteins related to risk factors for AMD. In addition, for the first time, we were able to map the exact genomic sites of these proteins and found that they operate in a region previously identified as related to risk factors for AMD.

“Our findings provide new insight into a previously unsolved issue: the functions and mode of operation of genomic sequences located outside the genes, and how they are involved in complex genetic diseases. We believe that our novel research methodology will enable the identification and mapping of many other genetic mechanisms related to AMD and other complex genetic diseases.”

To Read The Full Story

Are you already a subscriber?
Click to log in!