Team of Researchers Discovers Biological Marker for Age-Related Macular Degeneration
June 18, 2009
A team of researchers led by Dr. Jayakrishna Ambati at the University of Kentucky has discovered a biological marker for neovascular age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
The marker, a receptor known as CCR3, shows strong potential as a means for both the early detection of the disease and for preventive treatment. The findings were reported in an article published online Sunday (June 14, 2009) in the journal Nature.
“This is a major paradigm shift in macular degeneration research,” said Ambati, a professor of physiology, professor and vice-chair of ophthalmology and visual sciences, and the Dr. E. Vernon and Eloise C. Smith Endowed Chair in Macular Degeneration at the UK College of Medicine. “With CCR3, we have for the first time found a unique molecular signature for the disease. This brings us closer than we have ever been to developing a clinical diagnostic tool to discover and treat the disease early, before vision is lost.”
“Once the vessels invade the retina, the horse has already left the barn,” Ambati said. “At that point, drugs can slow the process, but irreparable damage has often already been done. This is why finding a means for early detection and intervention is so important.”
Drs. Atsunobu Takeda, Judit Z. Baffi, Mark E. Kleinman, Won Gil Cho and other researchers in the Ambati laboratory discovered that CCR3 – a molecule also implicated in inflammatory processes – is expressed on the surface of CNV vessels in humans but is absent from normal vascular tissue.
The research team discovered that CCR3 not only provides a unique signature for CNV, but the gene actively promotes the growth of these abnormal blood vessels in the eye. Thus the same anti-CCR3 antibodies used to detect CNV could potentially be useful as a clinical treatment to prevent macular degeneration.
The early results look promising. Treatment with anti-CCR3 antibodies reduced CNV in mice by about 70 percent, as opposed to 60 percent with VEGF-based treatments currently in clinical use. Ambati says Phase I clinical trials are not far off.
Ambati’s paper, “CCR3 is a target for age-related macular degeneration diagnosis and therapy,” was released online on Sunday and will be printed in an upcoming issue of Nature.
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