Drug treatment available for macular degeneration

Mayo Clinic is among the first medical centers in the nation to begin offering a new injectable drug treatment for macular degeneration, a common vision problem among elderly adults that can potentially lead to severe vision loss. “I think this is a wonderful advance because it is the first FDA-approved drug that is directly targeted to the problem causing the macular degeneration,” says Jose Pulido, M.D., Mayo Clinic ophthalmologist now treating patients with the drug. “This treatment directly targets the damaged blood vessels.”

The drug, pegaptanib sodium (Macugen), is now another alternative among treatments for the wet form of macular degeneration. Other treatments include photodynamic therapy, which combines a cold laser and a light-sensitizing drug called verteporfin; photocoagulation, which uses a high-energy laser beam to damage the abnormal blood vessels; and macular translocation surgery, which shifts the center of vision away from damaged tissue to healthy tissue.

“What’s exciting is that we now have more options for any single patient,” says Dr. Pulido. “Before we had some options, but they weren’t great options. But, our armamentarium is growing.”

The pegaptanib sodium treatment is injected into the affected eye, after anesthetization, every six weeks.

Dr. Pulido indicates that while there are upsides to this new treatment, there is a minor degree of risk patients should consider.

“The benefit is that it causes even less damage to the retina than the cold laser treatment did,” says Dr. Pulido. “The downside is the risk of infection since you are sticking a needle into the eye — there’s always a small risk of infection.”

Macular degeneration is an age-related chronic eye disease that occurs when tissue in the macula, the part of the retina responsible for central vision, deteriorates. This causes blurriness in the central vision or a hole — a blind spot — in the center of vision. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of severe vision loss in people age 60 and older. More than 1.6 million American adults have the advanced form of age-related macular degeneration.

“Macular degeneration affects the center of your vision, so when you’re looking at someone you don’t see their face — you see everything else around them,” says Dr. Pulido. “The people who have this unfortunately can’t drive if it’s severe enough, and they can’t read. So, it affects them significantly.”

The new injections are used to treat the wet form of macular degeneration, which progresses rapidly and may cause visual distortions, decrease or loss of central vision and or a central blurry spot. The condition may develop in one or both eyes.

Currently, all treatments for macular degeneration, including pegaptanib sodium injections, are aimed at stopping vision loss. No treatments exist that can reverse the damage.

Dr. Pulido is hopeful that other treatment options will become available for this disease in the coming years. “Down the pike we see other options,” he says. “Here at Mayo Clinic we’re working on stem cell treatments for patients with macular degeneration.”

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From Mayo Clinic

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