Robo-treatment for blindness

16 March 2008


Researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine have mad a discovery that could lead to treatments for two of the leading causes of blindness - age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. Age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of blindness in people age 65 or older and is expected to rise as our population gets older. And diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of blindness in working-age people, and is also on the rise as the number of people with diabetes goes up. These diseases cause problems by making blood vessels grow abnormally in the eye - and these new blood vessels are often weak and leaky.

Human eye cross-sectional view grayscaleThe team found that eye damage caused  by both diseases could be prevented and even reversed by switching on a protein called Robo-4, which has been implicated in angiogenesis - the process by which the body grows new blood vessels. Previous research has shown that Robo-4 can stop the growth of new blood vessels and stabilise them, preventing uncontrolled blood vessel growth. In experiments with mice, the scientists found that activating Robo-4 could block abnormal blood vessel growth and stabilise blood vessels to prevent leakage, helping to prevent or improve the symptoms of age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

This discovery could pave the way for treatments that switch on Robo-4, which could be potentially powerful treatments for blindness caused by these diseases. The research could also have bigger implications.  For example, serious infections such as SARS kill people when an infection destabilizes blood vessels, allowing fluid to leak into the lungs. Could activating Robo-4 help to stop this? And in cancer, tumours hijack blood vessels to provide them with nutrients and oxygen - so could there be some role for Robo-4 activating drugs here too?


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