VA Scientists Find Possible Treatment for a Leading Cause of Blindness

Feb 8, 2021

Scientists at the University of Virginia have made an exciting discovery that could lead to treatment of a leading cause of blindness in this country and might also prove useful in treating Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis and type II diabetes.

Professor Jayakrishna Ambati is the founding director of UVA's Center for Advanced Vision Science.
Credit UVA

Ten million Americans have the most common form of macular degeneration – a disease that robs them of their vision. 

“There’s a molecule called Alu that kills the cells in the retina,” says Dr. Jayakrishna Ambati, founding director of UVA's Center for Advanced Vision Science.  He  and his team used computers to analyze the medical records of 150 million people and made a surprising discovery.  Those who were taking certain drugs for HIV were far less likely to develop macular degeneration.

“When we looked at the rates of macular degeneration, we found they were about 40% less common in patients taking these drugs compared to patients not taking these drugs,” Ambati explains.

And he believes the HIV drugs could be useful in treating many other serious conditions.

“Because it turns out that the same Alu molecule is promoting death of cells not just in the retina but also in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and in fact a few months ago we showed that people who take the same drugs are protected from Type II diabetes by about 30%.”

He’s formed a company called Inflammasome Therapeutics, which will soon begin clinical trials to assess the value of those HIV drugs, known as reverse transcriptase inhibitors, in fighting macular degeneration and the other diseases linked to the Alu molecule. 

You can learn more learn about clinical trials involving macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and Type II diabetes here.