AEVR International AMD Awareness Week 2014 Congressional Briefing: Early Detection Can Lead to Better Outcomes
On September 18, in recognition of both Healthy Aging Month and International Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Awareness Week, the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research’s (AEVR) Decade of Vision 2010-2020 Initiative and co-sponsors (see box below) held a Congressional Briefing focusing on how vision research is addressing the challenges presented by aging eye disease prevalence and cost. In June 2014, Prevent Blindness released a report The Future of Vision: Forecasting the Prevalence and Costs of Vision Problems which estimated that the current $145 billion annual cost of vision disorders in 2014 will grow to $717 billion by year 2050-driven primarily by the aging of the population. AMD, the leading cause of blindness and low vision overall as well as that in the age 60-plus population, will become increasingly prevalent due to the aging population, especially growth in the age 90-plus population. This presents significant challenges to vision researchers.
Featured speaker Neil Bressler, M.D. (Wilmer Eye Institute/Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine)
In his opening comments, featured speaker Neil Bressler, M.D., Chief of the Retina Division and Professor of Ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine noted that he had just participated as a panelist in AEVR’s National Press Club release event for its survey The Public’s Attitudes about the Health and Economic Impact of Vision Loss and Eye Disease. He shared study results that reported that Americans rate losing their eyesight as having the greatest impact on their daily life and having a significant impact on their independence, productivity, and quality of life. In that regard he stressed that, since AMD destroys central vision through proliferation of new blood vessels (“wet” or neovascular AMD) or gradual breakdown of cells (“dry” AMD, or geographic AMD in its advanced stage), it can severely alter a person’s ability to read and drive, affecting quality of life.
Although most of the eight million Americans with dry AMD do not lose visual acuity, about 200,000 of these each year will progress to wet AMD with potential for severe central vision loss in at least one eye, and most of those developing it in one eye will develop wet AMD in the second eye within five years. He recognized that there is a growing body of evidence from studies-both domestic, specifically those funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI), and international-which indicate that intervention at the earliest sign of incident neovascular AMD when visual acuity is still relatively good may be most likely to result in a patient maintaining good vision at least one-to-two years after initiating “anti-VEGF” therapy. These therapies, which are ophthalmic agents used the past decade and developed, in part, through National Institutes of Health (NIH)–funded research, inhibit abnormal blood vessel growth due to Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF), stabilizing vision loss and, in some cases, improving lost vision. Dr. Bressler recognized that these same anti-VEGF ophthalmic agents are now being used in patients with diabetic macular edema and other causes of vision loss from diabetic retinopathy. This expanded use of these agents is important, since the year 2050 cost projections are also driven by a significant increase in diabetic eye disease prevalence in the growing Hispanic and African American populations.
Dr. Bressler stressed that, in addition to a genetic component to AMD or diabetic retinopathy risk, lifestyle factors such as smoking or obesity can significantly increase that risk. Referring back to the AEVR attitudinal survey, he concluded by saying that, “Although most Americans across ethnic and racial lines recognize that genetics and lifestyle factors can affect their vision, we still have a lot of work to do to increase that awareness so individuals can make healthy lifestyle choices.”
AEVR’s briefing featured an eye healthy luncheon, in which food items were identified for their nutritional content of zinc, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, beta carotene, and lutein/zeaxanthin. These nutrients have been identified in the NEI’s Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) Phases 1 and 2 as critical to reducing the risk of developing AMD.