Chinese University doctors have discovered a new protein linked to age-related macular degeneration that may lead to a breakthrough in treatment for thousands of patients each year.
CUHK ophthalmologists said Hong Kong's first treatment and research center for the degenerative eye disease at the Hong Kong Eye Hospital in Kowloon may help further research into a disease that afflicts 500,000 people, with that number expected to hit 700,000 in 20 years due to an aging population.
The new Pao So Kok Macular Disease Treatment and Research Centre is expected to serve more than 4,000 patients each year.
Assistant professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences Danny Ng Siu-Chun said: "There are no known direct causes of the degeneration but the disease develops in the central and most important part of the retina, which consists of numerous light-sensitive cells that cover the back of the eye."
The disease will lead to blurry vision, dark shades in fields of vision or even blindness.
Doctors in the department last year studied 20 to 30 eye fluid samples of those who have a "wet" degeneration problem the wet form has a more accelerated onset than the dry form and those who do not have age-related macular degeneration.
They discovered those who have a higher level of a protein called Angiopoietin2 inside the eyes of patients with wet macular degeneration have worse eyesight.
The director of the new center, Marten Erik Brelen, said: "We found that the level of Angiopoietin2 is significantly elevated inside the eyes of patients with wet age-related macular degeneration as compared to normal people that it correlates with vision loss and macular swelling.
"We will continue to research toward this direction and we believe this can lead to a breakthrough in treating patients."
The disease is most commonly treated with eye injections, which help 90 percent of the patient either to stabilize or improve the vision.
One dosage costs around HK$9,000, which is not covered by the Hospital Authority.
The authority estimated in 2010 there would be more than 3,000 new cases of the disease every year.