Research from the University of Southampton gives new insight into possible causes of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
The study, published in the journal Experimental Eye Research, discovered that a group of proteins, which are linked to Alzheimer's disease, are able to accumulate in the retina and damage it.
The researchers hope that the discovery could lead to better treatments for patients.
Dr Arjuna Ratnayaka, a Lecturer in Vision Sciences at the University of Southampton, who led the study, said: "We know that AMD is caused by a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle risk factors, but this novel discovery could open up new possibilities to understand how the ageing retina becomes damaged. Such advances are important if we are to develop better AMD treatments in the future.
The study, which used both cell cultures and mouse models, analysed how quickly Amyloid beta proteins, which are thought to be a likely cause of Alzheimer's disease, entered the retina and how they damaged it.
The team found that the Amyloid beta proteins entered the cells of the retina within 24 hours of exposure and then began to break the cell's scaffold structure.
Dr Ratnayaka added: "The speed in which these proteins entered the retinal cells was unexpected. These findings have given some insights into how a normal healthy retina can switch to a diseased AMD retina. We hope that this could lead to designing better treatments for patients in the future."
The research team's next step will be to evaluate how the Amyloid beta proteins get into retinal cells and study more closely how damage occurs, with a view of establishing preventative measures or treatment options.
The Macular Society funded a PHD student who is working on the study.
Cathy Yelf, Chief Executive of the Macular Society, said: "As our population ages macular degeneration is becoming far more common. It is an urgent public health issue. This study at the University of Southampton is an encouraging one and we welcome any research which could ultimately lead to better treatments for those affected. As a charity we are proud to fund ground-breaking medical research, so that one day we can find a cure for macular disease.”