Researchers have found evidence to suggest that the leading cause of blindness in the developed world - dry age-related macular degeneration - could be treated with cholesterol-lowering statins.

A team from Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Eye and Ear and the University of Crete undertook a Phase I/II study investigating whether statins helped reduce the extracellular lipid deposits in the eye characteristic of the disease and the effect on its progression.  

Their findings, published in the new online journal EBioMedicine, show that treatment with high-dose atorvastatin (80mg) is linked with regression of lipid deposits and improvement in visual acuity, without progression to advanced disease, in high-risk dry AMD patients.

"We found that intensive doses of statins carry the potential for clearing up the lipid debris that can lead to vision impairment in a subset of patients with macular degeneration," said Joan Miller, chair of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School and chief of ophthalmology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Massachusetts General Hospital.

"We hope that this promising preliminary clinical trial will be the foundation for an effective treatment for millions of patients afflicted with AMD."

The investigators are now planning to expand to a larger prospective multi-centre trial to further investigate the efficacy of the treatment in a larger sample of patients with dry AMD.

AMD affects more than 150 million patients worldwide. Although effective treatments are widely available for the wet form of the disease, which accounts for around 15% of cases, there remains a high degree of unmet need for the much more prevalent dry form.