Research targeting vision loss topic of Latrobe Lions program | TribLIVE.com
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Jeff Himler

The CEO of the Eye and Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh will visit Latrobe later this month to provide an update on local research that is under way to combat macular degeneration and other conditions that can lead to vision loss.

Lawton Snyder, who is originally from Greensburg, will present a free program on the topic from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 24 at the Latrobe Area Historical Society, 416 Weldon St., Latrobe.

The talk, sponsored by the Latrobe Lions club, is open to all at no charge. Parking will be available along Weldon Street and in the lot of Kelly, Sparber & White Associates, at Weldon and Alexandria streets.

The foundation is a support organization for the Departments of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Pitt and UPMC scientists are “working on a few things that could be transformative for patients with macular degeneration and glaucoma,” said Snyder.

According to the National Eye Institute, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss among people age 50 or older. It involves damage to the macula, a small spot near the center of the retina that is needed for sharp, central vision.

There are two types of AMD that cause vision loss in the condition’s late stage. Dry AMD is caused by the gradual breakdown of light-sensitive cells in the macula. In wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels grow underneath the retina and can leak fluid and blood, causing damage to the macula.

Based on projections by the National Institute of Health, Snyder said, close to 3 million people in the United States are experiencing some vision loss from AMD. In light of the nation’s aging population, that figure is expected to jump to more than 5 million by 2050, he said.

Studies are planned on the use of stem cells and gene therapy to address vision problems through tissue regeneration, Snyder said.

For those who have damage that can’t be addressed through regeneration, a camera interface is being studied by a Pitt School of Medicine partner institution in Paris while patients are being recruited for a related clinical trial in Pittsburgh, he said.

The concept, he explained, is for a small camera to “send an image wirelessly to a retinal implant in the back of the eye.”

Snyder, who also is a member of the Lions, noted one of that organization’s missions is to “support research and do service work for people in the community with vision loss.”

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