For a long time, there has been no hope for people with a debilitating eye disease, but now a pharmaceutical company is testing a drug that is showing promise, and it may be tested locally in the future.
Several years ago when Gloria Beach was working as a registered nurse, she noticed a vision change.
"I was having problem reading a street sign, newspaper print, small print," Beach remembers.
She thought the eye doctor would prescribe new glasses and everything would be fine, but it wasn't. Instead, she was sent to a retina specialist. The diagnosis: wet macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss in Americans older than 50. There's a genetic link and obesity that could lead to the disease, and smoking especially increases your risk.
Cells underneath the retina that nourish and protect it, degenerate. While certain vitamins can help, there is no treatment for the dry kind, affecting around 85 percent of those with the disease. For the wet kind, with bleeding and scaring in the eye, monthly eye injections can help some, but are not a cure.
"It can be a burden for the patient to have to come once a month to receive injections. Some of these patients can't drive anymore, so they rely on a family member to bring them," Dr. Jasmine Elison, a Retina Specialist in private practice and affiliated with East Jefferson General Hospital in Metairie and Touro in New Orleans, said.
Advanced macular degeneration is debilitating, causing a blind spot in your central vision.
There have been no medical advancements since those injections came on the market in 2005, but now Ohr Pharmaceutical, Inc. is in clinical trials with an eye drop people with wet macular degeneration could one day use at home.
"We saw that when you use the eye drops in conjunction with these injections, you can get more than five letters, a full line on an eye chart, more vision than you can achieve if you just get the injections," explained Retinal and Macular Disease Specialist Dr. Jason Slakter, who is a partner at Vitreous-Retina-Macula Consultants of New York. He is also a Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at New York University School of Medicine.
Dr. Slakter says the new medication is on the fast track with a goal of FDA approval. Beach hopes that will happen soon.
"The fear of going blind, you know, that's basically the bottom line. St. Lucy and I have become very good friends," Beach laughs, explaining how much she prays to the Patron Saint of the Blind to heal her.
It is possible that the new drops could be tested in the New Orleans area in the coming year, on local people with wet macular degeneration.
Eyewitness News will have a follow up story to let you know how to sign up.
For more information on the clinical trial, click here.