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Dry AMD Gene Therapy Shows Promise in Preclinical Study

The therapy has demonstrated benefit in multiple models of dry AMD.

This content originally appeared on our sister site, Opthalmology Times.

Investigators at Trinity College Dublin have developed a new gene therapy that shows promise for treating dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a progressive eye disease affecting up to 10% of adults aged 65 years and older which is a leading cause of severe vision impairment and blindness in this age group.

Dry AMD cases represent around 85% to 90% of all AMD cases and there are no treatments available to prevent disease progression, underscoring the need to develop treatment options for this debilitating disease, according to a Trinity College Dublin news release.

The team from Trinity’s School of Genetics and Microbiology developed a new gene therapy called ophNdi1 that is the first of its kind to directly target mitochondrial function in cells that are malfunctioning in AMD, according to the news release. Mitochondria are known as the “powerhouses” of the cell because they manage the production of energy. However, their performance dips substantially in dry AMD and this dip is linked to a deterioration in vision.

The novel gene therapy utilizes a virus to access to deliver the genetic code needed to give the failing mitochondria a lifeline, enabling the generation of additional energy and resumption of their function in supporting vision.

The study’s senior author, Jane Farrar, PhD, pointed out that the therapy has demonstrated benefit in multiple models of dry AMD, offering hope that it could one day progress to a treatment with potential to help millions across the globe.

“Critically, this study provides the first evidence in models that directly modulating bioenergetics in eye cells can provide benefit and improve visual function in dry AMD,” Farrar stated in a news release. “In doing so, the study highlights the energy powerhouses of the cell, mitochondria, as key targets for dry AMD.”

Sophia Millington-Ward, PhD, first author and research fellow in Trinity’s School of Genetics and Microbiology, pointed out that the novel gene therapy targeting cellular energy, or mitochondrial function, that investigators explored for dry AMD, consistently provided benefit in the model systems tested.

“Many retinal cells, essential for vision, require particularly high levels of energy compared to most other cells, which makes them particularly vulnerable to mitochondrial dysfunction,” she said. “The therapy we are developing directly targets mitochondrial function and increases energy production levels in the retina, which leads to better visual function in disease models of dry AMD.”

Millington-Ward noted that although there is further work to be done before this could be made available as a treatment for patients, “the results give us hope that we are getting closer to a solution to this challenging, debilitating condition.”

The Research team in Trinity is funded by Enterprise Ireland and the European Regional Development Fund under Ireland’s European Structural and Investment Funds programme 1014-2020, Science Foundation Ireland, Fighting Blindness Ireland – Health Research Charities Ireland, EU Marie Curie Innovative Training Network, Health Research Board Ireland, Health Research Charities and the Irish Research Council (StarT).

Reference
Sophia Millington-Ward, PhD; Jane Farrar, PhD; Arpad Palfi; G.J. Farrar; Naomi Chadderton; Laura K. Finnegan; Iris J.M. Post; Matthew Carrigan Tom Gardiner; Elisa Peixoto, et.al; AAV-mediated gene therapy improving mitochondrial function provides benefit in age-related macular degeneration models. Clinical and Translational Medicine. Published August 23, 2022. https://doi.org/10.1002/ctm2.952.