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New Diagnosis and Treatment Strategy for Retinal Diseases

(Vienna 26th September 2011) The University Department of Ophthalmology and Optometry at the Medical University of Vienna has carried out a pioneering and to date largest retinal study in the world. During this a new treatment strategy for age-related macular degeneration has been developed. At the same time a new method in which disease processes of the retina can be detected even earlier and therefore be treated more specifically has been developed at the MedUni Vienna.

2,457 patients took part in the study, for which Ursula Schmidt-Erfurth, Chair of the University Department of Ophthalmology and Optometry, acted as Head of the Steering Committee and Principal Investigator and Christopher Kiss from the MedUni carried out the clinical studies. The MedUni Vienna had been the worldwide lead centre in this study. In addition, all the study data from four continents and from 34 countries was collected electronically at the Vienna Reading Center, a scientific department of the Ophthalmology Department, and analysed there by the team led by Christian Simader, Head of the VRC.

Fewer injections, greater effect
“The administration of antibodies into the eye’s vitreous has revolutionised the prognosis for the most common causes of blindness in recent years, however the frequency of treatment with monthly injections for life has greatly limited its availability worldwide”, explains Schmidt-Erfurth, an internationally leading retina expert. With a new medication with lasting efficacy and an improved treatment strategy we have now been able to reach every patient; this also leads to a marked improvement in the patient’s quality of life. Kiss says, “The injection into the vitreous is now only necessary at most every two months instead of monthly, and the active ingredient, which is similar to that previously used, is much more potent and lasts longer.” As a result those affected also need to go for treatment less often and doctors and clinics can provide sight-preserving treatment to more patients.

The triggers of the disease are metabolism degradation products in the visual process which are deposited in the retina (macula) over the years, the so-called drusen. Kiss says, “Our retinas work constantly, and metabolic waste is deposited there as we age and it becomes harder and harder to transport it elsewhere.” In addition patients suffer from a lack of oxygen supply to the retina. As a reaction to the drusen the so-called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is triggered, and it begins to form vascular proliferations under the retina. The central part of the retina becomes progressively damaged from discharges of plasma and blood. The VEGF inhibitors available to date were only effective in the short term. The new substance, which has been proven by the Viennese team, has an effect for twice as long.

In Austria around 125,000 people suffer from AMD, who have partially or completely lost the vision in the centre of the visual field. Each year there are 4,000 to 5,000 new cases of the disease.

Treat before damage occurs
At the same time a new method is being used in Christopher Kiss’s study with the aid of high-resolution optical coherence tomography (OCT) with which the findings of slight changes in the retinal tissue can be classified more precisely and earlier than previously. Kiss explains, “Now we can almost foresee what is coming, we can intervene earlier and treat the problem before any damage occurs.”

On Wednesday, 28th September 2011, the 2nd Viennese Eye Day (Wiener Augentag) is taking place from 10 am to 6 pm in the ballroom of the Vienna Town Hall with many campaigns and talks all about the eye. Stefan Sacu, Johannes Nepp and Birgit Lackner from the University Department of Ophthalmology and Optometry as well as Heidemarie Abrahamia (university course in Gender Medicine) shall be amongst those giving talks.