Scientists at The University of Manchester have made important advances in understanding why our immune system can attack our own tissues resulting in eye and kidney diseases. It is hoped the research will pave the way for the development of new treatments for the eye condition age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and the kidney condition atypical Haemolytic Uremic Syndrome (aHUS).
Both AMD, which affects around 50 million people worldwide, and aHUS, a rare kidney disease that affects children, are associated with incorrectly controlled immune systems.
A protein called complement factor H (CFH) is responsible for regulating part of our immune system called the complement cascade. Genetic alterations in CFH have been shown to increase a person's risk of developing either AMD or aHUS, but rarely both. Why this is the case has never been explained until now.
Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Matrix Research and the Ophthalmology and Vision Research Group in The University of Manchester's Institute of Human Development have been expanding on their previous work that demonstrated a single common genetic alteration in CFH prevents it from fully protecting the back of the human eye.
The research teams of Professor Tony Day and Professor Paul Bishop found that a common genetically altered form of CFH associated with AMD couldn't bind properly to a layer under the retina called Bruch's membrane. Having a reduced amount of CFH in this part of the eye leads to low-level inflammation and tissue damage, eventually resulting in AMD.
However, this mutation that changes CFH function in the eye has no affect on the protein's ability to regulate the immune system in the kidney. A cluster of genetic mutations in a completely different part of CFH are associated with the kidney disease aHUS, but these have no affect on the eyes.