Research Team Finds Link between Zinc and Macular Degeneration

Posted: August 28, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By James Greif

Mason researchers have found that the mineral zinc could play a role in the development of macular degeneration, a condition that can lead to blindness.

In studying eye tissue samples, the researchers found the deposits that are hallmarks of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) contain large amounts of zinc.

“Because earlier findings have shown that zinc contributes to deposit formation in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, we were prompted to test the theory that zinc might be involved in deposit formation in AMD,” says Mason professor of psychology Jane Flinn, a member of the research team.

This finding, published in the journal Experimental Eye Research, might be particularly important because zinc supplements are widely given to patients to help boost weak immune systems. In addition, a 2001 study from the National Eye Institute found that high doses of zinc supplements, combined with antioxidants, may postpone the progression to blindness.

AMD is a medical condition in which the macula, the part of the eye responsible for central vision, experiences atrophy and in some cases bleeding. It is the primary cause of blindness in the elderly in Western society. Approximately 13 million Americans suffer from the disease, according to AMD Alliance International.

“The double-edged sword is that zinc has been found to enhance the immune system, but also could play a role in the advancement of macular degeneration,” says Imre Lengyel of the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology in London, who led the collaborative study.

“We now know that we need to take a closer look at the role zinc plays in the development of AMD,” says Mason graduate psychology student Katherine Cano. “We believe this finding will help us unlock other answers to the mystery of treating this disease.”

The team hopes their findings can be useful in the development of new treatments, as well as a more informed approach to zinc intake recommendations.

The study was supported by the Moorfields Eye Hospital Special Trustees and Mercer Fund, a U.S. Department of Energy grant and a Wilkins AMD fund grant.

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