Leading cause of blindness linked to defective gene

September 19, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

Researchers have identified a gene that causes age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the United States.

Identification of the gene, reported in today's edition of the journal Science, should eventually lead to the first treatments for the disorder, possibly including gene therapy, but it may produce more immediate benefits, experts said.

The course of the disease is known to be accelerated by exposure to smoking, sunlight and high-cholesterol foods, and screening for the gene would identify individuals who should avoid such risky behavior.

As many as 1.5 million Americans have severely impaired vision caused by age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, and more than 10 million others are thought to be in its early stages.

The gene, called ABCR, was first identified earlier this year as the cause of Stargardt disease, a familial form of the disorder in which blindness usually develops. Now, a team from the National Cancer Institute and the University of Utah have found that at least one in every six elderly people with macular degeneration carries a defective form of the gene.

Pub Date: 9/19/97

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