When it comes to losing one’s senses, I think about Cat Stevens’ poetic melancholy in his hit “Moonshadow.” Losing your vision isn’t that bad if you “won’t have to cry no more,” he sings.

It’s a great song, but I like my senses very much. And so does everyone else, I think.

In fact, losing sensory perception can be a terrifying thought, especially if one’s vision is at stake.

I remind myself of such things as I gear up to attend a conference on Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) sponsored by the Beckman Initiative for Macular Research this week in Irvine, Calif.

AMD is a leading cause of central vision loss and blindness in adults 60 years and older. Researchers have yet to figure out what causes the disease or how to stop it. The disease affects the macula portion of the retina; the retina is a light-sensitive lining near the back of the eye. Without the retina and a healthy macula, it would be difficult for the eye to turn light into electrical signals for the brain, resulting in gaps in vision seen below.

These photos contrast a healthy macula with one with AMD [photos: National Eye Institute]:


AMD is likely to become a larger issue over time, considering its prevalence among people over the age of 60 and America’s aging Baby Boomer population. That said, I read about a recent study (from UW) that states that rates of AMD have actually decreased in recent years. While this is good news, I’m interested to hear what other researchers think about it.

As a science writer attendee (along with other fellow graduate science writers), I’ll cover the work of leading researchers looking to develop better diagnostic tools and treatment for patients living with AMD. My task group will tackle pairing imaging modalities and potential biomarker candidates for AMD. Essentially, scientists in my group will discuss what types of structural and/or metabolic changes researchers should monitor as the disease progresses. They’ll also look at current imaging technology and brainstorm which types will yield the most clinically translatable results.

There’s so much to learn about this topic, and I feel I’ve only begun to skim the surface. With that in mind, I’m going to use my blog to post things I’ve learned from the conference.

Go check out AMD yourself — the BIMR’s tutorials are very helpful…

More to come soon!