Can diet help to beat AMD – the UK’s leading cause of blindness?

  • Grant holder: Dr Arjuna Ratnayaka, Associate Professor in Vision Sciences
  • Institution: University of Southampton
  • Grant award: £70,000
  • Start date: October 2022
  • End date: September 2025

What is Age-related Macular Degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive blinding disease that damages the macula - the part of the eye that is responsible for our central, detailed and much of our colour vision. It affects 1 in 3 people over the age of 75 years with around 70,000 new cases reported each year.

Although age is the principal risk factor for AMD, it is a complex disease in which genetics and lifestyle also play a part. The fact that the underlying mechanisms of AMD are still not fully understood is a fundamental barrier to developing more effective treatments.

Under the supervision of Dr Arjuna Ratnayaka, PhD student Anna Muir is exploring the relationship between AMD and diet, in the hope that new insights arising from her research will help to beat the UK’s leading cause of blindness. We asked Anna to tell us more about her project and its potential impact.

What’s the background to your project?

"Research studies involving thousands of participants have shown that an unhealthy diet – by which we mean one that’s high in processed foods, red meat, and fat - can increase your risk of developing AMD by up to 60%. We also know that eating dark green leafy vegetables and yellow-pigmented fruits can help to slow the progression of diseases like AMD and diabetic retinopathy. What we don’t know currently is what is happening at the cellular and molecular levels within the eye to cause both these harmful and positive effects. That’s what my research aims to address."

What will your research involve?

"In a previous study, the team here at Southampton found that when mice were fed a high fat diet, the structure of their retinas changed and showed signs of developing disease. My experiments will build on this evidence by seeing if retinal disease can be rescued by first feeding the mice a high fat diet, and then a normal diet again. I’ll examine their eyes at specific time points to get a good idea of exactly what is happening in their retinas in response to their diet, and when it is happening.

I’ll also be looking at what happens to human retinal cells when they are treated with oxidised cholesterol. This is a fatty substance, which has been found at significantly higher levels in the retinas of people with AMD than in the retinas of people with healthy eyes.

What might the long term impact of your research?

"Recent research suggests that just 53% of ophthalmologists advise those at risk of AMD of dietary changes that they could make. We hope that through our research, we can raise awareness of the importance of good diet and how it can protect your vision.

Research update!

Public education is an important aspect of Anna's PhD. We were thrilled to learn that on the strength of Sight Research UK's funding, Anna secured a grant from the University to commission a video, which shows how fatty foods contribute to the development of AMD. We're delighted to share it with you here!

Thank you

This research has been made possible thanks to the generosity of many charitable trusts and foundations whose kind support we would like to recognise here. In particular, we would like to thank The Robert Luff Foundation, The Inman Charity, The Basil Samuel Charitable Trust, The P F Charitable Trust, Doctor and Mrs Alfred Darlington Charitable Trust, The Helen Roll Charity, The Carr-Gregory Trust, The David Lister Charitable Trust, The Robert and Margaret Moss Charitable Trust, The Frank Litchfield Charitable Trust, The Irving Memorial Charitable Trust, The Nora Smith Charitable Settlement, The Tyldesley Charitable Settlement, The Manja Leigh & William Stockler Charitable Foundation, The Amar Family Charitable Trust and The Ian Askew Charitable Trust.

Related News Articles