Failing eyesight isn’t an inevitable part of getting older. But for many of us, it won’t be fun to live with.
Now, a new study outlines what scientists have learned about a key blood protein involved in macular degeneration. They hope that knowledge will help lead to treatments for the progressive eye disease, as well as Alzheimer’s disease and clogged arteries.
About 11 million people in the United States have macular degeneration, and that number is expected to double by 2050. Those who have it eventually lose their central vision — for example, you might watch TV but not see everything in the middle of the screen. Straight lines can appear bent. Reading fine print can become impossible.
The Sanford Burnham Prebys study looked at a key blood protein called vitronectin [vitt-troh-neck-tin]. Vitronectin is highly concentrated in human blood and is a key component of cholesterol.
It caught scientists’ attention because it accumulates in the back of the eye, where macular degeneration occurs. Similar deposits are found in the brain when Alzheimer’s is present, and in clogged arteries.
Under temperature and pressure changes, the protein can subtly shift shape. Researchers believe that flexibility makes it able to help cause the calcified plaque deposits characteristic of many age-related ailments.
Although the scientists found that the way vitronectin bends and behaves can be destructive, they’re optimistic. They predict the knowledge will lead to custom-designed antibody treatments that can thwart the protein’s calcium-binding shenanigans without disrupting the good things it can do.