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Experimental Treatment for Macular Degeneration

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Age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of irreversible loss of vision in the elderly. Treatments available today can sometimes slow the progress of the disease, but are seldom effective at improving vision. However, a group in Italy reported remarkable improvement in one case treated with nerve growth eye drops.

The patient was a 94-year-old woman who had already tried macular cryotreatment, laser, and photodynamic treatment without success. Her best corrected visual acuity was reported as 0.05 in the right eye and “count finger” in the left eye. According to a conversion chart available online, 0.05 corresponds to 20/400 vision. The patient's near visual acuity was reported as J17 in her right eye, which corresponds to 20/200 vision. Her left eye had no detectable near vision.

Nerve growth factor has been shown to affect the retina in animal models. Researchers prepared eye drops with this growth factor and administered them to the patient's right eye three times a day for five years. Her vision improved significantly within three months, and continued to improve over the first year. Her right eye reached a visual acuity of 0.16 for distance vision and J7 for near vision. These numbers correspond to 20/125 vision for distance, and 20/70 for close objects. Her left eye (untreated) remained unchanged.

The patient was monitored for six years, and the only side effect observed from the eye drops was a weak burning sensation in the eye for the first month of treatment. The authors report success in delivering nerve growth factor to the retina and optic nerve by using eye drops. This method has many advantages over the technique of intraocular injection. I know I would be much more likely to agree to treatment with eye drops than to a needle in my eye.

The authors recommend large scale clinical trials for nerve growth factor in treating degenerative disease of the eye, including macular degeneration and glaucoma. I found 366 clinical trials using nerve growth factor for a variety of conditions listed at http://clinicaltrials.gov. The authors also report success in using nerve growth factor to treat corneal ulcers.


Lambiase A et al, “Nerve growth factor eye drops improve visual acuity and electrofunctional activity in age-related macular degeneration: a case report”, Ann Ist Super Sanita 2009; 45(4): 439-42.

Visual acuity conversion chart:

Drugs versus lasers for current treatment:

Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.

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