Wet macular degeneration treatment uses the same anti-VEGF drugs as many cancer treatments. Anti-VEGF medications stem from cancer research. In both cases, the diseases are controlled by blocking the growth and development of new blood vessels.
Several years ago, while receiving chemotherapy for colon cancer, several patients noticed their vision improving. These patients must have had colon cancer and wet macular degeneration. At the time, Avastin was FDA approved for the treatment of colon cancer. Its effects on the eye were unknown.
Since then, anti-VEGF treatment has become the standard of care for treatment of wet macular degeneration. As it turns out, the cancer treatment and the macular degeneration treatment work because the two diseases have a lot in common.
In general, tumors grow rapidly and don’t know when to stop. Cancerous tumors grow, and enlarge, as if there is no “off” switch. Part of the reason for this unrestricted growth is due to the marvelous ability of the tumor to build its own blood supply.
Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein secreted by the tumor, allows the tumor to stay alive by creating new blood vessels for itself. It allows the tissue of the tumor to receive blood supply.
Blocking the actions of VEGF with agents such as Avastin, causes the tumors to shrink as the blood supply can no longer keep up with the demands of the tumor.
Similarly, in wet macular degeneration, the abnormal blood vessels, aka choroidal neovascularization, can grow quickly and without restraint.
The quick progression of the wet macular degeneration is due to VEGF causing the abnormal vessels to grow quickly.
Anti-VEGF medications, such as Avastin, Lucentis and Macugen, block the ability of the wet form to spread. The neovascular vessels shrink, stop leaking and bleeding in response to this novel wet macular degeneration treatment.
What Does This Mean? The common denominator for many cancers and wet macular degeneration is rapid, unrestriced, growth. The reason this can occur is due to the powerful effects of VEGF and its ability to rapidly create new blood vessels. The discovery of this “mediator” has lead to a new generation of cancer, and eye, treatments.
These treatments are novel due to their ability to directly inhibit, or block, a “natural” biologic process. By inhibiting the actions of a specific protein (VEGF) scientists have discovered powerful ways to specifically inhibit a disease process.