Gene Associated With Vision Loss Also Linked to COVID: Study

2 min read

Jan. 5, 2022 – Researchers have found a genetic link between the risk for COVID-19 infection and the leading cause of vision loss among people age 50 and older, called age-related macular degeneration. 

The findings show that COVID and AMD were associated with variations in what is called the PDGFB gene, which has a role in new blood vessel formation and is linked to abnormal blood vessel changes that occur in AMD. The study was published last month in the Journal of Clinical Medicine. The analysis included genetic data from more than 16,000 people with AMD, more than 50,000 people with COVID, plus control groups.

Age-related macular degeneration is a vision problem that occurs when a part of the retina called the macula is damaged, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The result is that central vision is lost, but peripheral vision remains normal, so it is difficult to see fine details. For example, a person with AMD can see a clock's numbers but not its hands. 

“Our analysis lends credence to previously reported clinical studies that found those with AMD have a higher risk for COVID-19 infection and severe disease, and that this increased risk may have a genetic basis,” explained Boston University researcher Lindsay Farrer, PhD, chief of biomedical genetics, in a news release.

Previous research has shown that people with AMD have a 25% increased risk of respiratory failure or death due to COVID, which is higher than other well-known risk factors such as type 2 diabetes (21%) or obesity (13%), according to the news release.