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Research team finds link between zinc and macular degeneration

A team of scientists, including three researchers at George Mason University, found that the mineral zinc could play a role in the development of macular degeneration. In studying eye tissue samples, the researches found that deposits, that are hallmarks of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), contain large amounts of zinc.

This finding, published in the journal Experimental Eye Research, might be particularly important because zinc supplements are widely given to patients to help boost weak immune systems. In addition, a 2001 study from the National Eye Institute found that high doses of zinc supplements, combined with antioxidants, may postpone the progression to blindness.

AMD is a medical condition in which the macula, the place of central vision in the eye, experiences atrophy and in some cases bleeding. It is the primary cause of blindness in the elderly in Western society and approximately 13 million Americans suffer from the disease according to AMD Alliance International.

“Because earlier findings have shown that that zinc contributes to deposit formation in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, we were prompted to test the theory that zinc might be involved in deposit formation in AMD,” said Mason professor of psychology, Jane Flinn.

“The double-edged sword is that zinc has been found to enhance the immune system, but also could play a role in the advancement of macular degeneration,” said Imre Lengyel of the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology in London, who led the collaborative study.

“We now know that we need to take a closer look at the role zinc plays in the development of AMD,” said Mason graduate psychology student Katherine Cano. “We believe this finding will help us unlock other answers to the mystery of treating this disease.”

The team hopes their findings can be useful in the development of new treatments as well as a more informed approach to zinc intake recommendations.

The study was supported by the Moorfields Eye Hospital Special Trustees and Mercer Fund, a U.S. Department of Energy grant and a Wilkins AMD fund grant.

About the College of Humanities and Social Sciences

The College of Humanities and Social Sciences is a cornerstone of learning and research at George Mason University. Programs of study at the graduate level provide a strong foundation of knowledge rooted in theory and research. Undergraduate students build strengths in writing, leadership and knowledge of global issues. All programs promote the exploration of contemporary issues through integrated interdisciplinary learning that encourages students to forge real-world connections to science, technology and the community. The college boasts a distinguished faculty of over 400 members, including Nobel laureates and recipients of the Pulitzer Prize and the MacArthur and Guggenheim awards.

About George Mason University

George Mason University, located in the heart of Northern Virginia's technology corridor near Washington, D.C., is an innovative, entrepreneurial institution with national distinction in a range of academic fields. With strong undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering, information technology, biotechnology and health care, Mason prepares its students to succeed in the work force and meet the needs of the region and the world. Mason professors conduct groundbreaking research in areas such as cancer, climate change, information technology and the biosciences, and Mason's Center for the Arts brings world-renowned artists, musicians and actors to its stage. Its School of Law is recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 50 law schools in the United States.

Jim Greif | EurekAlert!
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