"What we would like to do is to take a basic science laboratory observation as close to the clinic as we can," says Martin Friedlander, M.D., Ph.D., the principal investigator on the grant, an associate professor in TSRI's Department of Cell Biology and Chief of the Retina Service in the Division of Ophthalmology, Department of Surgery at Scripps Clinic.
The vast majority of diseases that cause catastrophic vision loss do so as a result of abnormal angiogenesis, the uncontrolled growth of new blood vessels in the back of the eye. The leading cause of vision loss in patients who are above the age of 65 is macular degeneration. Twelve to fifteen million people in this country alone have macular degeneration, and 10 to 15 percent of them will suffer acute loss of vision.
In patients under the age of 65, the leading cause of vision loss is due to a complication of diabetes known as diabetic retinopathy. Some 16 to 18 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes. Virtually every one of those patients will eventually have a form of diabetic retinopathy after 20 years and every year 40,000 of them lose vision as a result of complications from diabetes.
Both macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy are characterized by abnormal angiogenesis. In the case of macular degeneration, new blood vessels grow under the retina. In diabetic retinopathy, abnormal vessels grow on top of the retina. The effect is much the same; the vessels interfere with normal structures or the transmission of light to the back of the eye, impeding vision.