Human evolution News

When “poor design” turns out not to be poor, a treatment may emerge

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First, you’ve heard of the chromosome? Meet the inflammasome …

Scientists at Trinity College Dublin have discovered that a part of the immune system called the inflammasome is involved in regulating the development of one of the most common forms of blindness, called Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). They have discovered that controlling an inflammatory component IL-18, in cases of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) could prevent the development of the disease. (“Trinity researchers report major eye disease breakthrough“, Eurekalert, April 8, 2012)

Holding two pennies up in front of your eyes gives some idea, we are told, of what macular degeneration – usually a later life eye disease – is like.

The human immune system works to retard the disease, surprisingly, by using an inflammatory process:

“Traditionally, inflammation in the retina or indeed the eye in general is not beneficial and is a pathological hallmark of many eye diseases, including AMD. However we have identified, that one inflammatory component termed IL-18 acts as a so-called anti-angiogenic factor, preventing the progression of wet AMD” says Dr. Campbell.

(Wet AMD is the worse kind.)

“The progression from “dry” to “wet” AMD appears to be mediated by the inflammatory component IL-18, our results directly suggest that controlling or indeed augmenting the levels of IL-18 in the retinas of patients with dry AMD could prevent the development of the wet form of disease, which leads us to an exciting new prospect for a novel therapy for AMD” says Dr Doyle.

So this is an instance where the design is better than we think it is, and that fact suggests a treatment process: Promoting the function of the existing design.

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