Treating Macular Degeneration

AUGUST 3, 2005 -- There is new hope for people who have lost their sight from a common eye disease. Doctors have learned a new drug shows promising results in curing macular degeneration.

As the disease progresses, the center of vision develops blind spots, and in it's final stages, macular degeneration can lead to blindness.

77-year-old Dwight Smith is grateful he agreed to test the drug Lucentis after doctors diagnosed his wet macular degeneration. Two years ago, Dwight's eye tested legally blind.

"A car could have been a truck. A truck could have been a train as far as seeing anything you know, just distorted everything you have," says Smith.

But now after monthly injections, Smith is 20-30 in that eye.

"He reads the newspaper and drives, and everything is just back to normal and it's just unbelievable that could happen," says Smith's wife Patty.

Harvard graduate opthamologist Dr. Thomas Ciulla is one of the lead clinical trial investigators trying to find a cure for the problem which impacts one in four people over the age of 75.

"Macular degeneration is really one of the major public health problems in our country. There are many baby boomers who are going to develop this and it's a huge threat to their independence, so I think having a drug that not only limits vision loss but also restores vision is going to have a tremendous impact on our society," says Dr. Ciulla.

In the trial, the drug Lucentis is injected monthly. Of nearly 700 patients, 95 percent reported vision stabilization. Vision improved for 25 to 33 percent of patients, and after a year of treatment, 40 percent of patients tested 20-40 or better.

"I think a lot of people are hoping this is the next blockbuster. We can actually improve their vision, restore their sight, which is really a new paradigm shift for this disease," says Dr. Ciulla.

Look for FDA approval in early 2007. Even though you can't get this drug today, there is a lot you can do to stall vision loss with early diagnosis of macular degeneration, so if you see any change in your vision, see your doctor right away.

Courtesy: NBC Network