A protein has been discovered that appears to prolong the live of retinal cells in both healthy and diseased eyes. Working with mice, researchers hope that this protein discovery may lead to treatments for retinal diseases such as macular degeneration.
Researchers have called this protein histone deacetylase 4 (HDAC4) and has shown that it is produced naturally in both mice and humans. This protein has been shown to traditionally be involved with the regulation of both bone and muscle development.
By lowering the amount of this protein in mice, researchers observed that photoreceptor cells in the retina prematurely died in healthy eyes. Increasing the quanties of this protein above normal levels have been shown to protect the lifespan of these retinal cells. This was shown to occur even in mice suffering from genetic flaws that give rise to degenerative retinal disease. If researchers are able to duplicate this in humans, it could lead to new treatments for retinal diseases, or for developing treatments to restore sight in diseased retinas.
Scientists are hopeful that this protein will lead to treatments for disease such as macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in the elderly.