Cholesterol drugs hold promise for advanced AMD

A statin already on the market has been shown to improve the vision of people suffering dry age-related macular degeneration

05 Feb 2016 by Olivia Wannan

A currently-prescribed statin has shown promising initial results in patients with hard-to-treat dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a US study has found.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of Crete monitored 23 patients with dry AMD given 80mg of atorvastatin and recorded improvements in visual acuity, according to the phase I/II trial published in online journal EBioMedicine.

The results are promising for sufferers of the dry form of AMD, researchers say. Dry – as opposed to wet – AMD affects 85% of patients with the disease and effective treatments remain elusive.

Paper co-author and Harvard Ophthalmology chair, Dr Joan Miller, said scientists have long suspected there was a connection between dry AMD and cholesterol plaque build-up in the arteries.

Frequently soft, lipid-rich drusen – resembling the fatty plaques in arteries – is seen in the outer retina of patients with the disease. Yet, until now, studies on AMD patients using cholesterol-lowering statin medications were unable to demonstrate significant visual improvements.

Dr Miller and her team believe higher doses of statins are required to target the lipids in the retina, and prevent the disease’s progression.

Of the 23 advanced AMD patients given the regulatory-approved statin known as Lipitor, 10 had their lipid deposits disappear alongside a mild improvement in visual acuity.

Dr Miller said: “We found that intensive doses of statins carry the potential for clearing up the lipid debris that can lead to vision impairment in a subset of patients with macular degeneration.

“We hope that this promising preliminary clinical trial will be the foundation for an effective treatment for millions of patients afflicted with AMD.”

Paper co-author, Dr Demetrios Vavvas, added: “Not all cases of dry AMD are exactly the same, and our findings suggest that if statins are going to help, they will be most effective when prescribed at high dosages in patients with an accumulation of soft, lipid material.

“The data suggests that it may be possible to eventually have a treatment that not only arrests the disease but also reverses its damage and improves the visual acuity in some patients.”

Moorfields Eye Hospital consultant ophthalmologist, Robin Hamilton, told OT the study produced interesting results, albeit in a small number of patients.

“To fully evaluate the effect, this needs to be studied in a randomised controlled trial with an appropriate number of patients.”

A larger follow-up study was planned to confirm the findings.

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