The Retina and the Microbiome

Scientists discover a connection between the development of age-related macular degeneration and the intestinal microbiome

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Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in developed countries, but its causes are unknown, and no effective treatment exists. In a collaborative study with Tufts University, Weizmann Institute of Science’s researchers have discovered a connection between the development of this disease and the intestinal microbiome.

As reported recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, the Tufts researchers showed that when mice ate simple carbohydrates, they had an increased risk of developing macular degeneration. But once the mice switched to a diet including complex carbohydrates, the degeneration stopped.

Weizmann Institute’s Tal Korem and other members of Prof. Eran Segal’s team of the Computer Science and Applied Mathematics Department then entered the picture. The scientists found that when the mice switched to eating complex carbohydrates, the composition of their intestinal microbes also changed. “We don’t know yet if this change affects the course of retinal degeneration, but if it does, it may in the future be possible to prevent or stop this degeneration by altering the microbiome,” Korem says.

Also taking part in the study were Dr. Adina Weinberger, Dr. Tali Avnit-Sagi and Maya Lotan-Pompan.

Prof. Eran Segal’s research is supported by the Crown Human Genome Center, which he heads; the Else Kroener Fresenius Foundation; the Adelis Foundation; Donald L. Schwarz, Sherman Oaks, CA; Jack N. Halpern, New York, NY; Leesa Steinberg, Canada; and the European Research Council.