Annual Review 2023

Getting the good oil on AMD

Researchers are investigating the role of ‘good’ cholesterol in vision loss caused by age-related macular degeneration.

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A new study is examining the way ‘good’ cholesterol functions in people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), in the hope of identifying new treatments to prevent vision loss.

Led by Dr Carla Abbott from CERA’s Macular Research Unit, the study is investigating the role of fats and lipids in the blood stream and how AMD progresses – with a strong focus on high-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as ‘good’ cholesterol.

“Good cholesterol can protect against heart disease and stroke, but several studies have also shown it is elevated in the bloodstream in AMD,’’ says Dr Abbott.

“It is an anti-inflammatory that helps flush ‘bad’ cholesterol out of the body – but in people with AMD the function of the ‘good’ cholesterol appears to change.

“Our preliminary data suggests that people with AMD have a higher level of dysfunctional ‘good’ cholesterol, which means they no longer benefit from its protective properties.

“We are now testing our theory that the association between AMD and ‘good’ cholesterol is not about the amount of HDL in the bloodstream, but whether it is functioning properly.’’

Dr Abbott and her team, which includes Professor Robyn Guymer AM and Dr Manisha Shah, are conducting their research with the support of a $200,000 grant from the Macular Disease Foundation of Australia (MDFA).

“We’re grateful to the MDFA for their support,” Dr Abbott says.

Assessing cholesterol

They are comparing blood samples taken from AMD patients to those of people without AMD to assess the functionality of ‘good’ cholesterol.

In addition, they are also investigating if those with the most severe and high-risk forms of AMD have higher levels of dysfunctional ‘good’ cholesterol.

“Overall, our research is aimed at helping to develop therapies that allow us to intervene at an earlier stage, so people don’t risk losing their vision,’’ says Dr Abbott.

“If the ‘good’ cholesterol in AMD patients is not functioning as well as that of the people without the disease, then it points to a possible cause.

“It will also provide us with a new target for developing medicines that can potentially stall the disease and prevent vision loss.’’


This story was originally published in People in focus: Annual Review 2023

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