Breaking Research News: Your Gut Influences the Development of Blinding Eye Diseases

December 7th, 2016 by FFB Canada

A game-changing study by FFB-funded scientist, Dr. Przemyslaw (Mike) Sapieha, uncovered that bacteria in your intestines may play an important role in determining if you will develop the blinding eye disease, wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in people over the age of 50, affecting more than 10 million people in North America.

Early on, AMD is diagnosed by deposits of fat debris at the back of the eye called soft drusen. In some people, this early “dry” form of AMD will progress into “wet” AMD, characterized by the growth of diseased blood vessels. Approximately 10% of dry AMD cases progress to wet AMD, which is the primary form of the disease that causes blindness. Although we know about some important risk factors that contribute to this disease progression, such as smoking, there are large gaps in our understanding of why some people develop wet AMD and others don’t.

Previous studies have suggested that there is a connection between overall abdominal obesity and development of wet AMD. Until now, we did not know anything about the reasons for this connection. Thanks to Dr. Sapieha and his research team, we know that the microbes in our gut link abdominal obesity to vision loss. Their study, published in the prestigious journal EMBO Molecular Medicine, showed that changes in the bacterial communities of your gut (such as those brought on by a diet rich in processed fat) can cause long-term, low-grade inflammation in your whole body. Eventually, this inflammation promotes the development of wet AMD.

“Our study suggests that the gut microbiome can be altered in overweight individuals in a way that aggravates wet AMD, a vascular disease of the aging eye. Influencing the types of microbes that reside in your gut either through diet or by other means may thus affect the chances of developing AMD and the impact the progression of this blinding disease”, says Dr Sapieha.

What does this mean for the development of new treatments? This new discovery by Dr. Sapieha and his team suggests that keeping a healthy microbiota in your gut throughout life by limiting fatty processed foods may help prevent the development of wet AMD. Thanks to FFB donors for supporting this incredibly important research, which opens the door to an entirely new approach to eye health.

About the study:
Andriessen EMMA, Wilson AM, Mawambo G, Dejda A, Miloudi K, Sennlaub F, Sapieha P
(2016) Gut microbiota influences pathological angiogenesis in obesity-driven choroidal neovascularization. EMBO Mol Med doi: 10.15252/emmm.201606531