A treatment to prevent the West's commonest cause of blindness moved a step closer yesterday with the discovery of a mutant gene that sharply increases the risk of sight loss.
The discovery by scientists at Southampton University is the latest to show that the condition, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is an inherited disease which may be preventable with the right drugs.
About 25,000 people a year are diagnosed with wet macular degeneration in the UK, 30 million globally, which occurs when the blood vessels in the retina begin leaking, damaging retinal cells and destroying central vision.
In the latest advance, published in The Lancet, researchers led by Professor Andrew Lotery identified a gene called Serping1 which was present in the patients affected by the condition and which produces proteins that help ward off infection.
Professor Lotery said the finding, with the discovery of previous ge