If not treated promptly, dangerous blood vessel growth in the eye is a condition in which abnormal blood vessels form in the retina or the front part of the eye.
Scientists at UVA Health have discovered a previously unknown chemical that contributes to the harmful growth of blood vessels in the eye. This discovery might pave the way for novel treatments for macular degeneration and other common causes of vision loss.
Jayakrishna Ambati, MD, and Shao-bin Wang, Ph.D. of UVA, have identified a new goal in their quest to eradicate abnormal blood vessel tangles associated with eye conditions such as neovascular age-related macular degeneration, proliferative diabetic retinopathy, and ischemic retinal vein occlusion.
Jayakrishna Ambati, MD, is the founder of UVA's Center for Advanced Vision Science and a member of the University of Virginia School of Medicine's Department of Ophthalmology. Credit: UVA Health
Ambati, a founding director of UVA's Center for Advanced Vision Science and a member of the University of Virginia School of Medicine's Department of Ophthalmology, believes his research has opened the door to minimizing aberrant blood vessel growth in eye diseases by targeting the epigenetic machinery.
"We have gained a better understanding of how ocular immune cells can result in a loss of control over blood vessel growth under the retina, while also exposing the patient to new therapies that are more cost-effective and accessible."
Scientists have known that excessive amounts of a substance called "vascular endothelial growth factor-A," which plays an important role in blood vessel formation, fueled abnormal vessel overgrowth in the eye. Fortunately, these treatments can last longer than expected.
Ambati and Wang's new study identifies a key protein that controls VEGF levels. This protein was blocked in laboratory mice, and the researchers found no harmful effects on the retina, the light-sensing portion of the eye where the vessel overgrowth occurs.
"This remarkable finding answers a long-standing question about how ocular immune cells, such as macrophages, contribute to abnormal blood vessel growth under the retina," Ambati said.
Shao-bin Wang, Ph.D., of UVA Health Credit: Shao-bin Wang
The UVA researchers are optimistic about the potential of the new finding, as well as uncovering a promising avenue for the development of new treatments for vision impairment.
Wang said: "We are confident that our study will pave the path for the development of new therapies, ultimately reducing the burden of neovascular-related illnesses."
Shao-bin Wang, Yosuke Nagasaka, Dionne Argyle, Praveen Yerramothu, Bradley D. Gelfand, and Jayakrishna Ambati, 20 February 2023, Signal Transduction and Targeted Therapy. DOI: 10.1038/s41392-022-01277-4
Ambati is the co-founder of DiceRx, iVeena Holdings, iVeena Delivery Systems, and Inflammasome Therapeutics, and has done consulting work outside of the research. The whole list of the authors' disclosures is included in the paper.
The National Institutes of Health, the UVA Strategic Investment Fund, the DuPont Guerry III professorship, Mr. and Mrs. Eli W. Tullis' Annette Lightner Fund, and the Owens Family Foundation contributed to the study.