Alcoholism Drug Crosses Over to Macular Degeneration Treatment

Alcoholism Drug Crosses Over to Macular Degeneration Treatment

There are several drugs that some people afflicted with the disease of alcoholism can take for treatment. One alcoholism medication aka an alcohol use disorder (AUD) drug, was recently tested for vision loss caused by macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa (which has similar symptoms to macular degeneration).

Although more testing needs to be done, preliminary results look positive showing the potential for vision restoration down the line. If laboratory and clinical trials continue to improve, there could be a game changer in the battle against such a debilitating disease.

Learn how this alcoholism drug crosses over to macular degeneration treatment in the lab and how it may soon help millions of humans losing their sight.

Crossover Usability

It has been reported before how medications developed for one condition are unexpectedly able to treat another condition.

Some examples include:

  • Sildenfil (Viagra) – Originally developed to treat hypertension (high blood pressure) but when trials were failing it was discovered that this drug helped men with ED (erectile dysfunction).
  • Amitriptyline (Elavil) – This is an antidepressant that was also found to help relieve migraine headaches.
  • Birth control – Hormone therapy such as birth control was found to help reduce acne.
  • Minoxidal – This drug went from being used as an antidepressant to a major player in the hair growth industry.

Now, another drug can be added to the list. Disulfiram – marketed under the brand name Antabuse – is a drug used to treat cravings related to alcoholism. Researchers just announced that disulfiram has recently been linked to restoring vision in laboratory mice.

A Surprise Discovery

Finding the link between a drug for alcoholism and being able to treat macular degeneration with it is more of a surprise than a discovery. When scientists were creating disulfiram for alcoholism they understood that it would take a similar neurological path that was associated with blindness. They even estimated that the medication might have temporarily but nominally improved vision. A study by researchers at University of Rochester Medical Center decided to study this estimation.

Dr Michael Telias, first author of the study and assistant professor of ophthalmology, of neuroscience, Center for Visual Science at the University of Rochester Medical Center, commented, as reported by non-profit research resource, Futurity,

“We knew the pathway that the drug disulfiram blocks to treat alcoholism was very similar to the pathway that’s hyper-activated in degenerative blindness,”

What they didn’t estimate is that an almost miraculous result would occur when connecting disulfiram to macular degeneration treatment.

Professor Telias continued,

“We expected some improvement, but our findings surpassed our expectations,…We saw vision that had been lost over a long period of time preserved in those who received the treatment”

This was a surprise discovery that has opened a whole new path of study which may lead to research of similar drugs to fine tune a potential treatment protocol.

Noise Cancellation

When any living thing dies it releases energy. In the case of macular degeneration, for various reasons (which is why this disease is currently incurable), over years photoreceptor cells begin to die in the outer retina. As important sight cells like these die, vision diminishes considerably. This is the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). When these photoreceptors degenerate they release what scientists refer to as “sensory noise”.

In the study by Professor Telias and his team, it was found that when laboratory mice were given disulfiram the sensory noise would become significantly suppressed. So much so that the remaining, healthy photoreceptors can complete the image signals to the brain and maintain sight.

According to research, led by Richard Kramer, professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Michael Goard, assistant professor at University of California, Santa Barbara, Futurity reported that, 

“…disulfiram can target that sensory noise, allowing the surviving photoreceptors in the outer retina to complete the signal to the brain and ultimately restore some vision. They found that nearly blind mice, treated with disulfiram, were much better at detecting images on a computer screen.”

Professor Kramer commented, 

“Treated mice really see better than mice without the drugs. These particular mice could barely detect images at all at this late stage of degeneration. I think that that’s quite dramatic,”

Further Study

As disulfiram has been used by humans for alcoholism for many years, further study should be much easier than introducing a new drug for macular degeneration. Clinical trials will begin soon and because the drug has already been proven in the market, a possible vision restoring medicine could make it to the mainstream in at least half the time it takes a new drug to be approved by the FDA. This timeframe is usually about three years so if human trials are as successful as laboratory testing there could be a new remedy in about a year to a year and a half. 

However, because disulfiram creates intense, unpleasant reactions to alcohol (acting as a forced deterrent) trial participants and possibly the completed medication for macular degeneration may require giving up alcohol. If this is the case it will be interesting to see how many people consider their sight more important than their drink. 

Currently some side effects associated with disulfiram include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Flushing

It is not known whether these same side effects or even abstaining from alcohol will be required for those taking a potential sight restoring drug in the future. At this time there is progress being reported on two experimental treatments in the pipeline evolved from the disulfiram discovery which are known as BMS 493 which inhibits the receptor for retinoic acid (a metabolite of vitamin A1 that mediates the functions of vitamin A1 required for growth and development). The over accumulation of retinoic acid has been linked to macular degeneration.

Talk to your eye doctor about disulfiram and follow the progress of this new discovery together. Once it passes FDA approval, it could be the sight saver you or someone you love can benefit from. 


Alcoholism drug restores macular degeneration vision loss in mice