Scientists created a virus that could stop age-related blindness in its tracks

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Scientists engineered a virus that might help or even prevent blindness in the elderly.

19 patients with advanced, wet Age-Related Macular Degeneration — a condition that can lead to vision loss or blindness — participated in a small clinical trial for one year. AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in the U.S., and it happens when the macula — a cluster of light-sensing cells in the retina — starts to deteriorate as we get older. Wet AMD is when an abnormal blood vessel creeps under the macula, leading to blood or fluid leakage.

AMD doesn’t always cause total blindness, but it does usually lead to vision loss — especially among white Americans, who are most susceptible to the disease. About 2 million people suffered from AMD in the U.S. in 2010, but that number is projected to more than double by 2050, according to the National Eye Institute.

Just one dose can make a difference

This clinical trial may be a promising step toward treating some cases of wet AMD, a more severe and rare version of regular AMD. All patients were age 50 or over and were unlikely to get better under conventional treatment plans, but a single dosage of their manufactured virus made a positive difference for some.

The man-made virus is not all that different from a common cold, yet it seems to prompt the body’s immune system to get rid of the dangerous eye fluid.

It didn't work for everyone

From the beginning, eight of the 19 patients were not expected to respond to any treatment. The good news: Four of the remaining 11 experienced dramatic eye fluid reduction because of the virus, while two had partial fluid reduction.

But five people experienced no improvement at all. Their bodies already had antibodies for the scientists' virus concoction.

The clinical trial may point to a future where aging may not be so tough on the eyes, but scientists will have to replicate their results elsewhere first.

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Kelly Kasulis

Kelly Kasulis is a journalist covering tech and science for Mic. Follow her on Twitter: @KasulisK.

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