Resveratrol May Help Prevent Blindness
Some of the leading causes of blindness in the United States, including diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration, may be prevented by an antioxidant called resveratrol, which is found in red wine, grapes, berries, and several other plants. Results of the new resveratrol study appear in the American Journal of Pathology.
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis conducted studies using mice to learn what impact resveratrol might have on the formation of new blood vessels, called angiogenesis, in the retinas. To accomplish this, they caused the development of the abnormal blood vessels using laser treatments. Once the abnormal vessels appeared, they treated the mice with resveratrol.
The researchers found that after the mice received the resveratrol, the abnormal blood vessels began to disappear. They then examined the blood vessel cells in the lab and found that a specific pathway was responsible for the antioxidant’s protective effects. The pathway they discovered was not the same one identified in earlier studies of resveratrol’s anti-aging effects.
This new discovery means “we have identified a novel pathway that could become a new target for therapies,” according to Rajendra S. Apte, MD, PhD, the study’s senior investigator and a retina specialist at Washington University. Apte and the other study investigators believe the new pathway “may be involved both in age-related eye disease and in other diseases where angiogenesis plays a destructive role.”
Two of those eye diseases are diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration. Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease and a leading cause of blindness among adults in the United States, according to the National Eye Institute. The eye disease causes the blood vessels in the eye to swell and leak fluid in some people, while in others it is characterized by the growth of abnormal new blood vessels on the surface of the retina. The National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports that diabetic retinopathy is diagnosed in about 65,000 diabetics each year and is responsible for 12,000 to 24,000 new cases of blindness each year.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects the macula, the part of the eye that allows people to see fine details. The disease destroys sharp, central vision, which is necessary for seeing objects clearly and for conducting common activities such as reading and driving. In some people, macular degeneration progresses very slowly, while in others the disease progresses faster and may result in blindness in both eyes. AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in Americans age 60 and older.
Apte noted that many current treatments for retinal disease involve eye injections, while resveratrol can be taken orally and is easily absorbed in the body. These features may make it a preferable treatment course for patients.
In addition to diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration, resveratrol may also be helpful in treating retinopathy of prematurity, which occurs when premature infants have immature retinas that have an obstruction in blood flow. This condition causes blindness in 50,000 newborns each year around the world.
Resveratrol has been studied extensively and been found to have potential in preventing and treating a variety of conditions. Some recent findings include the ability to build brain resistance against stroke, improve symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, protect against diabetes, and boost brain function, as well as its possible anti-aging impact.
The study of resveratrol showed that the antioxidant was effective at both preventing new blood vessels from forming and at eliminating them once they had already formed. These benefits suggest resveratrol “could potentially be a preventive therapy in high-risk patients,” says Apte. But he also noted that the new pathway identified in their study may not only help prevent blindness, but also treat cancers and atherosclerosis some day as well.
National Eye Institute
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis