Phase I and II clinical trials have been conducted, at both the Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Harvard Medical School and the University of Crete, on the efficacy of certain cholesterol-lowering medication in the treatment of patients with dry macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration (AMD) comes in two forms, wet and dry. There are far fewer treatments for the dry form that the wet, and far more people suffer from it as well. Approximately 85% of all AMD cases are of the dry variety. Both forms together make AMD the leading cause of blindness in the developed world.
Studies have shown that high dosage (80mg) treatments of atorvastatin lead to the decline in lipid deposits and improvements in visual acuity. The progression of the disease was halted, with few patients developing into advanced stages. These findings strengthen the connection between lipids, AMD, and atherosclerosis, as well as present a new possibility in treatment options for people suffering from dry AMD.
“We found that intensive doses of [atorvastatin] carry the potential for clearing up the lipid debris that can lead to vision impairment in a subset of patients with macular degeneration” said Joan W. Miller, M.D., the Henry Willard Williams Professor and Chair of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School and Chief of Ophthalmology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Massachusetts General Hospital. “We hope that this promising preliminary clinical trial will be the foundation for an effective treatment for millions of patients afflicted with AMD”.
AMD affects more than 150 million people around the world. It’s associated with the build up of lipids and fatty proteins under the retina, referred to as drusen. Patients suffering from AMD experience blurred vision or blindness in the center of their field of view.
In the field of ophthalmology there has been strong suspicion for quite some time that a link exists between atherosclerosis and dry AMD. Both conditions present a similar symptom; soft, lipid-rich drusen in the outer retina.
The researchers plan to continue their study, further looking into the connections between the two diseases, and possible treatment options. Expanding into larger, multi-centered trials will allow further investigation into the efficacy of using atorvastatin to treat dry AMD.
“This is a very accessible, FDA-approved drug that we have tremendous experience with,” said Dr. Vavvas. “Millions of patients take it for high cholesterol and heart disease, and based on our early results, we believe it offers the potential to halt progression of this disease, but possibly even to restore function in some patients with dry AMD.”