Thursday, May 29, 2008

Help for age related blindness

A new study may have some answers for age-related blindness, such as macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy. Though still being researched, the study found a biological pathway that might be responsible for blocking cell migration and blood vessel leakiness, which causes most cases of blindness in the United States.

The study, which was published in the online edition of Nature Medicine, only identifies an observation that is going to need a lot more study and development. However, the researchers feel the science is promising.

Though this may be a bit confusing, let’s try to understand their observation:

A protein called Roundabout is a cell surface protein. There are many members of the Roundabout (Robo) family, which mostly aid neurons in their growth, development and direction through expressing in the nerves. The researchers found that one member of the Roundabout family, Robo4, is a little different. Robo4 expresses in the blood vessels. Since noticing that Robo4 expresses in the blood vessels, they have been trying to figure out what Robo4 does exactly.

To help understand, they mutated the Robo4 gene in mice and then characterized the behavior of the cells in response to vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) – a sub-family of growth factors that are important in signaling proteins to promote angiogenesis. VEGF promotes vascular growth and can also be responsible for inducing damage. They not only characterized the cell behavior in the presence of Robo4’s binding partner, Slit2, but they also characterized behavior in the absence of Slit2.

The researchers found that Slit2 is able to halt VEGF activity, due to its interaction with Robo4.

This finding suggests that giving Robo4 a binding protein can stop cells from leaking and growing. This identifies a whole new pathway that could inhibit the role of VEGF in neovascular age-related macular degeneration.

It could still be over a decade before this approach could arrive in clinics.

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