Researchers have revealed that two major eye diseases and leading causes of blindness - age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy - can be reversed or even prevented by drugs that activate a protein found in blood vessel cells.
In the study, Dean Y. Li, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the study and colleagues found that damage from both diseases was prevented and even reversed when the protein, Robo4, was activated in mice models that simulate age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.
The researchers found that Robo4 treated and prevented the diseases by inhibiting abnormal blood vessel growth and by stabilizing blood vessels to prevent leakage, the two primary factors in both age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy.
"This discovery has significant implications for developing drugs that activate Robo4 to treat AMD and diabetic retinopathy," Nature quoted Kang Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Utah's John A. Moran Eye Center and an investigator with the University's Program in Human Molecular Biology and Genetics, as saying.
Li and Zhang collaborated on the study, using the same animal models of AMD and diabetic retinopathy that are required for drug development.
The collaboration between Li and Zhang means the time required to test the approach in people could be shortened, perhaps by years.
Nonetheless, both the researchers warned that getting new drugs to market still would take a number of years.
Robo4 can be seen only in cells in the interior surface of blood vessels and is activated by a protein called Slit.
After being activated, the protein initiates a chain of biochemical events to stabilize blood vessels and prevent uncontrolled growth.
The study is published on March 16 in Nature Medicine online.