Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in adults, and scientists are hard at work finding a cure for it. There are positive strides made every day, and there are all sorts of promising new developments, such as the use of stem cells to recover degenerated eye tissue.
Researchers have now found that a drug used in the treatment of alcoholism, disulfiram, may help in restoring vision loss from AMD and retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a rare genetic disorder that causes the breakdown and loss of cells in the retina.
“We knew the pathway that the drug disulfiram blocks to treat alcoholism was very similar to the pathway that’s hyper-activated in degenerative blindness,” said Michael Telias, Ph.D., assistant professor of Ophthalmology, Neuroscience, and Center for Visual Science at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “We expected some improvement, but our findings surpassed our expectations. We saw vision that had been lost over a long period of time preserved in those who received the treatment.”
How does disulfiram help blindness?
Testing on mice, researchers found that disulfiram suppressed the sensory noise that was a block between photoreceptors and the brain. In degenerative diseases like AMD and RP, dying photoreceptors in the outer retina cause this sensory noise in the inner retina. The essence of it is that the drug blocks the disruption caused by photoreceptors dying from these degenerative diseases.
Mice in late degenerative stages were able to see images on screen much better with the disulfiram than they could before they were given the drug.
According to Telias, this could be a good proof of concept to develop new medications focused on restoring vision in patients.
Researchers have enough findings to move on to a small trial with humans, as the drug has already been proven safe in humans with its prior use in treating alcoholism.