'Robo' Gene Fights Macular Degeneration
Gene Could Lead to New Treatments for Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Diabetic Retinopathy
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
"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
Those experiments "may have broad therapeutic potential," the
researchers write in the March 16 advance online edition of Nature