More than 32-thousand people in North America received sight-restoring corneal transplants last year, hundreds of them thanks to the work of specialists at the Iowa Lions Eye Bank at the University of Iowa. Donated corneas are vital in those cases, according to eye bank director Cindy Reed, who says age-related macular degeneration, or A-M-D, is starting to take a serious toll in Iowa. Macular degeneration essentially makes you progressively blind starting in the middle of your visual field. In Iowa, about ten-percent of people over 60 years old will develop A-M-D and one-third of people over 85 will get it. Reed says researchers at the University of Iowa were the first ones to discover the disease’s genetic link. She says the eye bank is key in helping A-M-D patients keep or regain their sight. Last year, the eye bank provided corneas for 686 corneal transplants, 132 took place in Iowa City while another 120 took place elsewhere in Iowa. The other corneas were sent across the U.S. and to several foreign countries. Reed says work is underway at the U-of-I on what’s called corrective gene therapy which could prevent A-M-D in future generations.
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