Healthcast: Study hopes to slow macular degeneration


More than 11 million people in the U.S. suffer from age-related macular degeneration or AMD, according to the Brightfocus Foundation. Now, a team of researchers believes Levodopa can delay onset of the disease, or even prevent it from happening at all.

Howard Morrow, 85, enjoys days with his wife Joyce and dog Oliver. But his age-related macular degeneration or AMD has progressed to the more serious “wet” form. Now, he gets injections to slow the disease.

“It’s a big pain once a month to get in your car with your wife and go down there and spend half a day in the medical office and then for a day and a half, you’re very uncomfortable,” Morrow said.

Losing vision is a terrible prospect for a former fighter pilot. So Howard is thrilled about the AMD trial.

University of Arizona researcher Brian McKay’s team analyzed health records of 87 million patients, tracking their response to Levodopa, a Parkinson’s disease drug.

“We both reduce the risk of ever developing the disease and so the incidence was lower and also showed that if you were taking L-dopa for a movement disorder, you developed AMD much later.” Brian S. McKay, PhD, Director of Basic Research, SW Center for Age-Related Eye Diseases, Associate Professor, Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Science at the University of Arizona explained.

If they did, onset was delayed by nine years. We make Levodopa in tissue pigment. It helps keep our eye’s macula healthy. Professor McKay says taking Levodopa pills keeps the pigmentation pathway active, protecting people from AMD.

“I think we can cure this disease. I think we can prevent it and I think we can actively keep people from having all those injections.” McKay said.

Howard is happy to make a toast to that.

Fair-haired, fair skinned people with light colored eyes have less pigment and are more affected by AMD. Fourteen percent of Caucasians over the age of 80 have it, compared to less than four percent of African-Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities.

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