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Age-related macular degeneration (AMD). You probably haven’t heard much about it, but if you live in the United States, it’s the most likely way you’ll lose your eyesight as you get older. Basically, the cells in your retina that detect light—aka the macula—tend to decline as you age, leading to vision loss and, in some cases, total blindness.
But a recent clinical trial tested an unorthodox method to treat and potentially prevent this from happening: giving patients a man-made virus. The trial’s findings, published last week in The Lancet, show that administering viruses may help doctors stall vision loss and eventually make age-related blindness a thing of the past.
For the trial, doctors gave the virus to 19 patients with advanced, wet age-related macular degeneration, a type of AMD that causes abnormal blood vessels beneath the macula to leak fluid. White Americans over the age of 80 are particularly vulnerable when it comes to getting the chronic eye disease. All the patients in this new trial were 50 years old or older and had little success with standard treatments. Though the virus was not drastically different from a common cold, doctors intended for it to jump-start the patients’ immune systems and help their eyes drain the problematic eye fluid.
What they found was substantial fluid reduction in four of the patients, some fluid reduction in two patients, and five who saw no improvement. According to Mic, doctors didn’t expect eight of the patients to see any improvement from the outset. But for the five who were expected to see some improvement and didn’t, it seems their bodies already had antibodies to ward off the homemade virus, deeming it ineffective. But for those who literally saw progress as a result of the virus, the trial is definitely worth replicating.