The Genetics of AMD in the Old Order Amish

two straw hats hanging on a wall

For over two decades, Dr. Jonathan Haines has studied genetic factors that contribute to diseases of aging and “successful” aging in the Old Order Amish. A growing health concern in the US population is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), one of the leading causes of visual impairment and blindness in the elderly.  It is well-established that genetic factors contribute strongly to AMD; Dr. Haines led one of the first studies to identify the gene CFH as a major risk factor for AMD (see Haines et al. for more details).  But precisely how these and other genetic factors impact progression of the disease from its earliest symptoms to severe vision loss is not known.

photograph of Drusen visible in a fundus
Drusen visible in a fundus photograph

Dr. Haines has maintained strong relationships with the Amish communities in central Ohio. The diet, lifestyle, and environmental exposures within Amish populations are more homogenous and consistent than those of the general US population, making Amish communities a unique opportunity to study genetic and epidemiological factors for human phenotypes.  With the kind cooperation of our Amish participants (and through our collaborators’ studies of Amish communities in Indiana and Pennsylvania) we are collecting detailed eye measurements and genetic information to determine what impact genes may have on AMD.  The ultimate goal is to identify predictors of disease progression so that treatments can be developed to prevent vision loss due to AMD.