Rheopheresis – Dry Macular Degeneration Treatment

Patients suffering from dry macular degeneration are treated primarily with antioxidants and dietary supplements such as zinc.  However, Rheopheresis, a somewhat controversial treatment for dry macular degeneration has entered clinical trials.

While there have been many recent developments for the treatment of wet macular degeneration, the same cannot be said for dry macular degeneration.  Being the leading cause of vision loss in people over the age of 50, macular degeneration research has resulted in several effective treatments for this eye disease, particularly those suffering from wet macular degeneration.  The same cannot be said for those patients diagnosed with dry macular degeneration.

Rheopheresis hailed as a treatment for dry macular degeneration.  Some in the eye care profession see rheopheris as a therapy not a treatment and question the effectiveness in treating the eye disease.

Rheopheresis is a process that involves the filtration of blood, similar to what occurs in kidney dialysis.  It is not a cure for dry macular degeneration, and in many scientific circles is seen as an experimental therapy for the eye disease.  Proponents of rheopheresis are quick to claim that this procedure has been around for decades and has shown success in treating several ailments where the removal of cell by-products from the blood was necessary.

In dry macular degeneration it is thought taht drusen deposits accumulate in the eye.  These deposits are caused primarily by the waste by-products carried in the blood stream.  Rheopheresis is an apparently safe and effective form of membrane differential filtration that eliminates high molecular weight proteins from being carried in the blood and deposited in the eye as drusen.

It is thought that the filtration process associated with rheopheresis will improve the flow of blood through small vessels in the body by reducing blood and plasma viscosities.  Since it is believed that impaired blood flow in the vessels beneath the retina contributes to the development of dry macular degeneration and the formation of drusen deposits, rheopheresis can provide a remedy to this situation.

Japaneses have developed the basis for rheopheresis in the 1970s while explorign a way to treat high cholesterol.  Researchers at the University of Cologne in Germany used a newly developed filter in a study using rheopheresis to treat several eye conditions characterized by restricted blood flow.  During this limited trial, rheopheresis treatments were shown to have been very successful in treating patients diagnosed with the eye disease dry macular degeneration.

Rheopheresis is a specific method of apheresis – a treatment in which a patient’s blood is drawn outside the body and specific compounds removed through a specially developed filter.  This blood is then returned to the body with the proteins removed.  The removal of large proteins, fat molecules and other impurities improves the flow of blood to the macula and the retina.  It is this increased blood flow through rheopheresis that is said to slow the progression of dry macular degeneration.

In some studies, the results of rheopheresis has been very encouraging.  On July 18, 2005, David Boyer, M.D. announced at the annual meeting of the American Society of Retinal Specialists (ASRS) that “of the 30 qualifying dry macular degeneration eyes studied in PERC, approximately 93 percent remained stable or improved at an average of 18 weeks post-baseline.”  While the numbeer of participants in this rheopheresis study was low, the significance of having 93 percent of the patients remain stable in the progression of their dry macular degeneration warrants more research.

Currently, rheopheresis treatment for dry macular degeneration is only available in Canada and Germany.