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An Oxford University study has found that reducing the tendency of vitamin A to form toxic clumps could slow down a condition that leads to blindness in children and young adults.

Heatmap representation of an autofluorescence photograph of the retina of a teenage girl diagnosed with Stargardt disease. The red flecks represent hyperfluorescent areas caused by materials such as vitamin A dimers. The dark blue region in the center delineates an atrophic area, indicative of central vision loss.
Heatmap representation of an autofluorescence photograph of the retina of a teenage girl diagnosed with Stargardt disease. The red flecks represent hyperfluorescent areas caused by materials such as vitamin A dimers. The dark blue region in the center delineates an atrophic area, indicative of central vision loss.

People usually associate vitamin A as being good for the eyes, but the study found that in patients with Stargardt disease, vitamin A transforms into toxic compounds, which cause chronic inflammation, premature ageing of the retina and vision loss.

Stargardt disease affects around 1 in 10,000 people and begins in childhood, leading to progressive loss of central vision. The condition is linked to defects on a gene known as ABCA4. In Stargardt disease, the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye - the retina - ages prematurely and granules called ‘lipofuscin’ accumulate.

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