Global summit to address epidemic of age-related macular degeneration

Male researcher in the lab

Three leading sight loss charities, Blind Veterans UK, Fight for Sight and the Macular Society, have joined forces in the global fight against age-related macular degeneration (AMD). 

AMD is the main cause of sight loss in the developed world and the third largest globally. There is no cure and treatment options are very limited. 

Working with Wellcome Genome Campus Advanced Courses and Scientific Conferences, the charities are bringing more than 50 leading international scientists and funders together to explore ways to prevent the early stage of AMD developing into the blinding forms. The scientists will meet at Wellcome Genome Campus, near Cambridge next week. 

The charities say the need is urgent as the world faces a vast epidemic of AMD as populations age. 

· More than 600k people have AMD related sight loss in UK - this will double by 2050

· 10m people have AMD sight loss globally - this will be 20m by 2040

· 288m people will have some form of AMD globally by 2040

The causes of AMD are not fully understood but there is known to be a genetic component. Environmental factors such as poor diet, obesity and smoking are also known to increase the risk of AMD. But the biggest risk is age. The enormous rise in the number of people living into their 80s and 90s is the main reason for the increase in AMD. At age 60 around one person in 250 has sight loss through AMD. This roughly quadruples through each subsequent decade of life so that it affects nearly one in four people at the age of 90. 

The Wellcome-funded conference or ‘Retreat’ will be opened by Prof Sir Colin Blakemore, a renowned neuroscientist with a particular interest in vision. 

Nick Caplin, CEO of Blind Veterans UK said: “Blind Veterans UK currently supports more vision-impaired veterans than at any time in its 102 year history. It is an interesting and sad reflection that two thirds of the veterans we support today suffer from AMD. The projected rate of increase of AMD within the UK and globally is alarming. For Blind Veterans UK, this initial scientific meeting is a call to action to find a successful intervention, and to help millions of people avoid this devastating disease in years to come.” 

Michele Acton, CEO of Fight for Sight said: “Thanks to the development of treatments and public health actions, the number of people globally with blinding infectious eye diseases has decreased. However the number of people with age-related sight loss is increasing significantly and AMD is becoming a major global health issue. We need to act now to develop new interventions to address this before millions more lose their sight.” 

Cathy Yelf, Chief Executive of the Macular Society said: “AMD is a devastating disease that is already affecting millions of older people. We must increase investment in research or we face a vast and world-wide epidemic of sight loss in old age. This scientific meeting is an important step towards making AMD a real priority. On behalf of the three collaborating charities we are grateful to Wellcome Genome Campus Advanced Courses and Scientific Conferences for funding the Retreat and guiding us on its formation.” 

Following the Retreat, a report for researchers, funders and others will be published to guide priorities and continue this new research initiative.