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Release: Aug. 16, 1999

UI invites participants for age-related macular degeneration study

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa Health Care invites physicians and optometrists to refer people with early age-related macular degeneration (AMD) to participate in a new clinical trial testing whether laser treatment can prevent severe visual loss in people with the disease.

Approximately 1.7 million Americans have AMD, the leading cause of severe visual impairment in Americans age 60 and older. In people with the disease, the earliest changes to the eye are yellow spots called drusen. The spots develop in the center of the retina, known as the macula, which is responsible for the clear, central vision used for activities such as reading, sewing and driving. Some patients with drusen progress to atrophy of the retina, called dry AMD. Other people with drusen develop new blood vessels beneath the retina, called wet AMD. Both changes can cause severe visual loss.

The UI is one of 23 clinical centers nationwide that will enroll a total of 1,000 patients over the next 18 months in the Complications of Age-Related Macular Degeneration Prevention Trial (CAPT). The five-year study is sponsored by the National Eye Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

Trial participants will need to travel to the UI for treatment of one eye with light laser. The procedure is quick and causes little, if any, discomfort. This treatment has been shown to cause drusen to disappear and may reduce the risk of future visual loss. Participants will need to return to the UI for about seven visits over five years.

"Age-related macular degeneration is wreaking havoc on the vision and quality of life of our older population," said James C. Folk, M.D., UI professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences, and principal investigator for the UI portion of the study. "Unless an effective treatment is found, this situation will only get worse as more Americans reach age 60. Our current treatments are for the late stages of AMD and have only limited success. This trial is unique in that it will treat patients at an earlier stage to try to prevent the later stages and vision loss."

Men and women age 50 and older who have large drusen, or yellow deposits, in the retinas of both eyes may be eligible for the trial. Only an eye care professional can verify the presence of the deposits through a dilated eye exam. In addition, participants must have best corrected vision of 20/40 or better in each eye, have no other eye disease affecting their vision, be available for five years of follow-up, and have never received laser treatment to the macula. There is a small chance the new treatment could increase the risk of vision loss.

Researchers will share any important information gained from the study with all CAPT patients, physicians and optometrists, and the public as soon as it becomes available.

People who are interested in participating in the study should check with their eye care professionals to see if they meet the study criteria. Eye care professionals may then contact Steven A. Wallace, CAPT clinic coordinator for the UI, at (319) 353-6478. Information on CAPT is also available at the National Eye Institute web site at