Macular degeneration is an eye disorder that can slowly destroy a person’s sharp central vision. These changes make it difficult to read and see details. It is a disease more common in people over the age of 60. Now a team of biomedical research in the United States identified a protein and opened up the possibility of developing more treatments.
The research was led by Dr. Francesca Marassi, professor at Sanford Burnham Prebys, an institute founded more than 45 years ago in the United States. His work attempts to help unlock the molecular secrets of macular degeneration, which causes almost 90% of age-related vision loss.
The Marassi team’s study was recently published in the journal Biophysical Journal. they have describe the flexible structure of a key blood protein implicated in macular degeneration and other diseases age related, such as Alzheimer’s disease and atherosclerosis.
“Blood proteins are under constant and changing pressure due to the different ways blood flows through the body,” Dr. Marassi said. “For example, blood flows more slowly in the small blood vessels of the eyes than in the large arteries that surround the heart. Blood proteins must be able to respond to these changes, and this study provides us with fundamental truths about how they adapt to their environment, which is essential for targeting these proteins for future treatments.”
There are hundreds of proteins in our blood, but the researchers focused on vitronectin, one of the most abundant. In addition to circulating in high concentrations in the blood, vitronectin is found in the scaffolding between cells. It is also an important component of cholesterol. Moreover, it is a key element in many age-related diseases. For Marassi’s team, however, the most promising goal is macular degeneration, which affects up to 11 million people in the USA. This figure is expected to double by 2050.
“This protein is an important target of macular degeneration because it accumulates in the back of the eye. Causes loss of vision. Similar deposits appear in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease and in the arteries in atherosclerosis,” Marassi said. “We want to understand why this happens and use this knowledge to develop new treatments,” he added.
To answer this question, the researchers looked at how the protein changes its structure at different temperatures and under different levels of pressure, approximating what happens in the human body.
“Determining the structure of a protein is the most important part of determining its function,” Marassi explained. Thanks to a detailed biochemical analysisthe researchers found that the protein can subtly change shape under pressure. These changes allow it to more easily bind calcium ions in the blood. And researchers suggest this leads to the buildup of calcified plaque deposits characteristic of macular degeneration and other age-related diseases.
“It’s a very subtle change in molecular structure, but it has a big impact on the function of the protein,” Marassi said. “How much find out more the protein at the structural and mechanical level, the more likely we are to successfully target it with treatments,” he said.
This structural knowledge will accelerate the development of treatments for macular degeneration, since will allow researchers and their partners in the biotechnology industry to design personalized antibodies that selectively block the binding of calcium to proteins without impairing its other important functions in the human body.
“It will take some time to turn this into a clinical treatment, but we hope to have an antibody that works as a potential treatment within a few years,” Marassi said. “And since this protein is so abundant in the blood, there may be other interesting applications for this new knowledge that we don’t yet know about,” he said.
Currently It is known that there are factors that can increase the risk of developing macular degeneration: if you follow a diet high in saturated fats (found in foods such as meat, butter and cheese), if you are overweight, consuming tobacco, being over 50, high blood pressure and heart disease.
The most common symptoms of macular degeneration can be visual distortions, such as straight lines that appear bentreduced central vision in one or both eyes, need for brighter light to read or do detailed work, increased difficulty adjusting to low light levels, such as when entering a dimly lit restaurant, blurred vision increased printed words, reduced color intensity or brightness, difficulty recognizing faces, and a well-defined blur or blind spot in the field of vision.