In what may prove to be a major scientific breakthrough, reviews of voluminous medical records data indicate that a drug (L-DOPA) used to treat Parkinson's and related diseases may be able to delay or prevent macular degeneration, the most common form of blindness among older Americans. The findings, published online on October 30, 2015 in an open-access article in the American Journal of Medicine (AJM), represent possibly ground-breaking progress in the fight against age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which affects as many as 11 million Americans. The title of the new AJM article is “Mining Retrospective Data for Virtual Prospective Drug Repurposing: L-DOPA and Age-related Macular Degeneration." AMD hinders central vision, and even when it does not lead to blindness, it can severely reduce the ability to read, drive, and recognize faces. In the new study, supported in part by the BrightFocus Foundation, researchers discovered a biological connection between more darkly pigmented eyes, which are known to be resistant to AMD, and increased levels of a chemical called L-DOPA in those eyes. Because L-DOPA is frequently prescribed for Parkinson's patients, the researchers wanted to know whether patients who received the drug L-DOPA as treatment for Parkinson's or other diseases were protected from AMD. By combing through massive databases of medical chart data, they reported that patients receiving L-DOPA were, in fact, significantly less likely to get AMD, and when they did, its onset was significantly delayed. "Rather than looking at what might cause AMD, we instead wondered why certain people are protected from AMD. This approach had never been [taken] before," says senior author Brian McKay, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona.
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