Tuesday, November 15, 2005

macular degeneration -- personal connections

My paternal grandfather had macular degeneration for years before he died. Macular degeneration is, of course, the most common cause of blindness in the elderly, and it's caused by a progressive degeneration of the retina, especially the cones that give you detail and color vision. (The rods that give you peripheral vision are relatively spared.) It was a really unpleasant experience for him, particularly as he was losing his hearing at the same time, and he became quite depressed as a result of being socially isolated.

One quasi-funny story about this is when the degeneration was just starting. My grandfather was an avid target shooter, who reloaded his own bullets and owned a number of guns. He would go out into the desert of New Mexico, put paper targets against a hill-side, and make holes in them. He took us out shooting once, when my sister and I were kids, which was interesting... Anyway, 7 or 8 years ago I got a call from my grandfolks, who knew I was studying some sort of science that might have something to do with vision. They said that my grandfather couldn't really see the black-and-white target rings very well any more, and wondered if some other colors might be better. So, I did a bit of research on macular degeneration and the color response curves of rods and cones, and suggested that it might be easier to see flourescent green and black bullseyes. A couple weeks later, and yep, he said it helped! So, my blind grandpa is going out to the desert to shoot... good thing there's nothing out there but cacti and lizards... Then, a year or so after that, I get an email message. Green and black isn't cutting it anymore -- any suggestions for rigging up a light? A little more thinking about brightness, and I decided the only thing that would make any difference whatsoever would be to prop up a mirror and double the amount of sunlight landing on the target. The eye responds to changes in light intensity logarithmically, and sunlight is several orders of magnitude stronger than anything you could run off the battery of a Ford Bronco II. I don't recall whether they said that helped or not...

Anyway, on a topical note, there was an article in today's New York Times health section about some new research on macular degeneration. Some scientists at Harvard tested the eyes of people with and without macular degeneration for a very common bacteria called chlamydia pneumoniae, which usually causes lung diseases (not STDs). They found the bacteria in 6 of 9 patients with degeneration, and no bacteria in 22 control subjects. They suggest that macular degeneration may be caused by inflamation caused by that bacteria. If this holds up, treatment of macular degeneration may just involve a course of anti-biotics at the proper time (which has not been established at all). Very cool.

And amusingly, I've got another personal connection to this research. Murat Kalayoglu, the lead author on the paper, was in my middle and high school classes, and was a friend of mine for a time. Nice guy, and very sharp... not too bad at the trombone, either. His father, incidentally, is a rather famous liver transplant surgeon at UW-Madison...


At 5:14 PM, Blogger John said...

Thank you for your effort re: macular degeneration.

I started a blog on "macular inflamation", for macular degeneration is a very lose term, and could mean anything.

My blog concentrates on the effects of ultraviolet light on the macular optical cells.

I appreciated your effort to make your personal research and experience public.


At 12:56 PM, Blogger The Patient Connection said...

HL 217 Macular Degeneration - a new research blog – please help

Dear Friend

I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to a research blog on macular degeneration or AMD. We thought that our blog is relevant to this discussion.

We are very interested in your thoughts so it would be great if you could have look at the blog and share your macular degeneration story.

To have a look (and to tell us what you think) please click this link


The blog is anonymous and easy to use. Instructions are given on the blog so thanks in advance for your help it is much appreciated.

Let me know if you have any queries?

Best wishes

The Patients’ Voice

At 10:50 PM, Anonymous Barry Wheeler said...

I want to thank you for spreading the word around on this disease. I have started a site that is doing just that after my mother got diagnosed with this disease. It is amazing to see that there are so many other people out there with this problem.

My site is at http://www.amdsupport.ca/

At 4:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great idea

Well done


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