THURSDAY, July 28, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A genetic link between rhesus monkeys and humans with macular degeneration -- an incurable eye disease that's the leading cause of blindness in the United States -- may provide information about the earliest stages of the disease, when severe vision loss could be halted.
"Stopping the development of the disease is something the monkeys will help us do that we can't do with humans. This is a big step forward in dealing with the disease," study co-author William W. Dawson, a professor of ophthalmology and physiology at the University of Florida, Gainesville, said in a prepared statement.
With help from researchers in Germany, Dawson's team say they've pinpointed a chromosome region and genetic markers for macular degeneration in both humans and rhesus monkeys. The finding enables researchers to study how macular degeneration progresses in the monkeys, which could lead to better treatments and possibly a cure for the disease in humans.
Studying rhesus monkeys should help researchers learn more about the earliest predictors of macular degeneration, Dawson said.
"It's difficult to follow closely the aging of a human over a specific period of time. People wouldn't tolerate a controlled (living) environment for weeks and years," Dawson noted.
The study appears in the online issue of Experimental Eye Research.
The U.S. National Eye Institute has more about macular degeneration.