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'Robo' Gene Fights Macular Degeneration

Gene Could Lead to New Treatments for Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Diabetic Retinopathy
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 17, 2008 -- New research shows that a gene called Robo4 could help curb or prevent two leading causes of blindness: age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy.

"This discovery has significant implications for developing drugs that activate Robo4 to treat AMD and diabetic retinopathy," Kang Zhang, MD, PhD, University of Utah associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences, says in a news release.

The Robo4 gene isn't about the eyes. Instead, it plays a role in the development of new blood vessels.

In diabetic retinopathy and in some AMD patients, certain blood vessels in the eye become leaky and abnormal new blood vessels develop.

Activating the Robo4 gene shored up leaky blood vessels and curbed the development of new blood vessels, Zhang's team found in a series of experiments in test tubes and mice.

To do that, the Robo4 gene countered a chemical called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which signals the creation of new blood vessels. In other words, Robo4 prevented VEGF from issuing the "let's make some blood vessels" order.

Those experiments "may have broad therapeutic potential," the researchers write in the March 16 advance online edition of Nature Medicine.

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