Retina Researchers Bring Sight-Saving Treatments to Maritimes

NSHA researchers are key players in worldwide efforts to introduce powerful new treatments for degenerative retinal diseases that, until 2007, were simply unstoppable. 

“We enrolled some of the first patients in the world to receive Lucentis, the breakthrough treatment that has reversed vision loss and preserved years of sight for millions of people with age-related macular degeneration,” says Dr. Alan Cruess, a senior ophthalmologist, former department head and professor who specializes in retinal disease. “Since then, we’ve continued to test new treatments for AMD and expand the uses of approved medications.”

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 50, and affects as many as 15 per cent of people over the age of 80. It is caused by the progressive breakdown of the macula, a small area in the centre of the retina that allows us to see details in front of us so we can recognize faces, read, drive and perform other functions of daily life. Lucentis and newer treatments like Eylea work only on the “wet” form of AMD, by interfering with the overgrowth of leaky blood vessels behind the retina that damages the delicate nerves of this light-sensitive tissue. 

“We’re currently involved in a trial of a new agent for ‘dry’ AMD,” notes Dr. Cruess. “In another year or two, we may have an effective treatment for this devastating form of macular degeneration as well.” 

The same treatments that have preserved vision for so many people with wet AMD are also showing promise against diabetes-induced retinal damage.

“We’re involved in several trials to see if agents that work for wet AMD can also be used to protect vision in diabetic retinopathy,” says Christine Morrison, a research coordinator in the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences. “With diabetes on the rise and affecting people at younger and younger ages, there’s a serious need for treatment protocols to protect their eyesight.” 

The NSHA/Dalhousie retina research group is a member of the Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research Network, funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. “It’s a feather in our cap to be invited to join this North American network of leading retina research centres,” notes Dr. Cruess. “Whether in diabetic retinopathy, AMD, or other retinal diseases, our involvement in clinical trials provides patients with early access to the newest treatments and protocols, and physicians with a good working knowledge of the new treatments so they can be easily adopted for widespread use once they’re approved.”