Media contacts:
Joy H. Bell, 404-778-3711,
Kathi Ovnic Baker, 404-727-9371,
Janet Christenbury, 404-727-8599,
September 16, 2002


Emory Eye Center to Offer Public Symposium on Macular Degeneration, Leading Cause of Blindness and Visual Impairment in Those Over 65

A growing concern of the burgeoning aging population, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that poses many questions for those afflicted and their loved ones.

AMD is the leading cause of visual impairment and blindness in Americans over 65 years of age. It affects the sharp, central vision required for "straight ahead" activities such as reading, driving, and recognizing faces. Risk factors for developing macular degeneration include, in this order: age, smoking and heredity.

The Emory Eye Center will provide some answers to this troubling eye disease on Friday, October 25, at a public symposium held at The Carter Center, One Copenhill Drive, Atlanta, from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Retinal specialists and Emory Eye Center's low vision director will present current treatments, findings and options.

Admission is free with a required reservation. Interested participants may call 404-778-3750 to secure a spot. Seating is limited to the first 450 who call.

What Is Macular Degeneration?

MD is often called "rusting of the retina." There are two main types, dry and wet. The dry or atrophic type is the most common -- affecting nearly 90 percent of all cases -- and results as the macula's tissues age and break down, causing a gradual vision loss. The wet or exudative form of macular degeneration affects 10-15 percent of individuals with the disease and can significantly damage vision. It results when abnormal blood vessels form and leak fluid and blood beneath the retina. The choroid's blood vessels, combined with tissue, can form a scar-like membrane under the retina and block central vision.

The three stages of AMD include:

- Early AMD: Patients with early AMD have, in one or both eyes, either several small drusen (yellow deposits under the retina) or a few medium-sized drusen; these patients do not have vision loss from AMD.

- Intermediate AMD: Patients with intermediate AMD have, in one or both eyes, either many medium-sized drusen or one or more large drusen; in these people, there is usually little or no vision loss.

- Advanced AMD: In addition to drusen, patients with advanced AMD have, in one or both eyes, either: a breakdown of light-sensitive cells and supporting tissue in the central retinal area (advanced dry form); or (2) abnormal and fragile blood vessels under the retina that can leak fluid or bleed (wet form).

These two forms (wet or dry) of advanced AMD can cause serious vision loss. Scientists are unsure why an increase in the size and number of drusen can lead to advanced AMD, but patients who have advanced AMD in one eye are at especially high risk for developing it in the other eye.

Last year's nationwide study in which Emory participated, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study or AREDS, showed that a dietary supplement of high levels of antioxidants and zinc significantly reduced the risk of advanced AMD and its associated vision loss in patients at high risk of developing advanced stages of AMD. While these findings were exciting, these supplements are not right for everyone, says Paul Sternberg, Jr., MD, head of Emory's Retina Section.

"In our symposium we will explore in depth the treatment that today's patient might pursue. Hopefully, our participants will come away with increased knowledge about this condition and the ability to make choices about their medical options. In addition, there are a number of investigational treatments including retinal translocation surgery and a variety of promising pharmacological treatments," he concludes.

Today's active intervention options for AMD include laser treatment, photo-dynamic therapy (PDT) and surgical removal of scarring membranes or neo-vascularization. Palliative therapy includes the use of low vision devices such as the JORDY, a head-mounted binocular-type vision device that includes a computer chip, enabling patients to "see" objects that are magnified for them 25 times.

Topics addressed at Emory's symposium will include: the basics of AMD (dry and wet); treatments -- conventional and surgical; vitamins; new pharmacological treatments; low vision rehabilitation; and frontiers, including transplantation, retinal chip and gene therapy.

Joining Dr. Sternberg in the symposium will be Thomas M. Aaberg, Sr., MD, Director of the Emory Eye Center and Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology, himself a retina physician; Daniel F. Martin, MD, retinal physician and researcher, Enrique Garcia, MD/PhD, a retina physician and researcher; Dean Jones, PhD, Department of Biochemistry, Emory University; and Ned Witkin, OD, Director of the Low Vision Clinic at Emory.

This event is underwritten by pharmaceutical companies Alcon, Bausch & Lomb and Novartis.

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