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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 2, 2005
CONTACT: James F. Jorkasky
Executive Director
240-221-2905
jamesj@eyeresearch.org

NOTED RESEARCHER TO SPEAK ON DISCOVERY OF GENETIC BASIS OF AGE-RELATED MACULAR DEGENERATION (AMD)

(Washington, DC) Today, the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR) announced that Gregory S. Hageman, Ph.D., Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, will speak at a Capitol Hill luncheon briefing on Wednesday, September 21, 2005, from 12 Noon - 1:15 pm in Senate Hart 902 on the recent discovery by National Eye Institute (NEI)-funded researchers of a gene that is strongly associated with a person's risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in older Americans, w ith almost 10 million individuals age 40+ currently experiencing intermediate-to-advanced stage of the disease, with about 50-80 million experiencing it worldwide. AMD affects a part of the eye called the "macula." In "dry" AMD, abnormal deposits of proteins called drusen form in the macula, and in "wet" AMD, new blood vessels grow into the same region, damaging this sensitive tissue. Since the macula is essential to central vision, AMD severely affects a person's ability to read and drive.

Recently, NEI-funded investigators have identified a gene that is strongly associated with a person's risk for developing AMD. The gene, Complement Factor H, is associated with the body's inflammatory response, and the proteins produced in this pathway have been found in drusen deposits in eyes with "dry" AMD. This research finding, cited by National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni at a July 19 Congressional hearing as a significant breakthrough, will help to clarify the immune system's relation to the disease and, therefore, could lead to early detection and rapid development of new strategies for the prevention and treatment for this debilitating eye disease.

In announcing the briefing, AEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky stated that, "Vision loss experienced with AMD has an enormous impact on productivity, independence and quality of life. With the aging of the population, the direct economic and societal cost of AMD comprises an increasingly larger share of the $68 billion annual cost to the United States of vision impairment and eye disease."

Jorkasky added that the recent findings represent collaborative research between the NEI and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), both within the NIH. Previous collaborations between NEI and the NCI, as well as the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), have led to the development of the first generation of ophthalmic drugs to inhibit abnormal blood vessel growth in "wet" AMD.

The Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR) is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating Congress and the public about the importance of federal funding for eye and vision research. AEVR unites the community of support for eye and vision research, including the ophthalmic and optometric professionals, consumer advocates and industry to speak with a unified voice about the economic and societal value of research. Visit AEVR's Web site at www.eyeresearch.org .