Health

The depression pill that may save ageing eyes

Antidepressant Prozac could become the first treatment for the dry form of the eye condition dry age-related macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration makes reading difficult

PROZAC may be the first treatment for an eye condition that affects more than half a million people in the UK, causing blurred or restricted vision.

That's the suggestion from data analysis which revealed that people who regularly take the antidepressant are 15 per cent less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Animal research by the same team of scientists who analysed the data also found that the drug - which costs £2 a pill - slows down the rate at which AMD progresses.

The researchers suggest the findings could lead to the widely available drug becoming the first treatment for the dry form of AMD.

The condition, which mostly affects people from their 50s and 60s, is caused by damage to the retina, the layer of light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye that sends images to the brain.

There are two forms; dry and wet AMD. In the dry form, which accounts for around nine out of ten cases, there is a slow deterioration of the cells in the central part of the retina, an area called the macula, often over many years, as the retina cells die off and are not renewed as we age.

Wet AMD is caused by the growth of abnormal blood vessels at the back of the eyes and happens much faster as blood vessels leak fluid or blood into the macula. Drugs can help stop the growth of these blood vessels by blocking signals the body sends to generate new blood vessels.

Both forms of AMD can make actions such as reading and recognising faces difficult.

While some or all central vision may be affected by both types, peripheral vision remains normal. When, for example, someone with AMD looks at a clock face, they may see the numbers but not the hands.

And straight lines, such as doors, or lampposts, may appear wavy, bent or distorted. The exact cause of dry AMD is unknown, although it has been linked to smoking, high blood pressure, being overweight and a family history of the condition.

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine examined data from more than 100 million adults and found a 15 per cent reduced risk of AMD among those who had been prescribed fluoxetine (brand name Prozac), according to results published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the US.

Follow-up animal research confirmed the drug slowed sight loss by sticking to immune system compounds called inflammasomes. These are thought to trigger inflammation that leads to the breakdown of the surface layer of the retina. Researchers suggest the drug could either be taken as a daily pill or packed inside a slow-release implant in the eye.

Commenting on the research, Gwyn Williams, a consultant ophthalmologist at Singleton Hospital, Swansea, said: "This is certainly an interesting finding.

"AMD is arguably one of the biggest health challenges facing us. Human trials would indicate if there's any clinically relevant discovery here, and we must remember that antidepressants have side-effects, so any benefits would need to be significant enough to outweigh the risks."

© Daily Mail

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