The key to treating several kinds of blindness might lie inside plants new research reveals.
Scientists from the University of Surrey and the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Eye Institute at Indiana University School of Medicine in the USA have published a paper that explores how compounds from a group of plants could be used to treat degenerative eye diseases such as the blindness caused by diabetes is known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy.
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The research could also help other types of blindness including sight abnormalities in premature babies (retinopathy of prematurity), diabetics (proliferative diabetic retinopathy) and older adults (wet age-related macular degeneration).
Plant compounds unlock medical possibilities
The naturally occurring homoisoflavonoids found in the Hyacinthaceae plant family and their synthetic derivatives were investigated by the researchers. Degenerative blindness is commonly caused by abnormal growth of new blood vessel cells in the eye.
The research team tested how well the plant compounds were able to halt the growth of new blood vessels and isolated several active compounds. They say that one particular synthetic derivative could be the base from which future treatments can be developed.
Degenerative blindness affecting millions
Retinopathy of prematurity affects around 20 percent of premature babies according to data from the Great Ormond Street Hospital. Newborns who are delivered before week 32 of pregnancy or weigh less than 1500 g are most at risk. Blindness from diabetes or Diabetic retinopathy affects more than 28 million people worldwide.
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The vision loss is caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye, which if left untreated can lead to total blindness. Around the world, more than 20 million older adults ware affected by wet age-related macular degeneration which can also lead to absolute blindness.
"It goes without saying that losing your eyesight is a devastating experience. We believe that our results hint at possible future treatments for many degenerative eye conditions and it appears that nature still has many secrets to reveal,” says Professor Dulcie Mulholland, Head of Department of Chemistry at the University of Surrey.
Blindness doesn’t just affect the patient, blindness is a huge issue in a family and communities when members become reliant on others to complete small daily tasks once able to be completed independently.
The new treatments could radically change lives and are an exciting step forward in a difficult field of medicine.
"Existing therapies for these diseases must be injected into the eye, and do not work in all patients. Our findings are a first step towards therapies that might avoid these shortcomings," explains Professor Tim Corson, Director of Basic and Translational Research at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Eye Institute.
The collaborating research institutions will continue to work together on developing the treatments.