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The University of Utah Medical School is looking for volunteers for a national study on vision loss.

The study, to be conducted at seven clinics across the country, is designed to consider whether drugs composed of vitamins and minerals can slow or reverse the progression of two common age-related eye disorders. The U. is looking for 330 participants over the age of 40 with mild to moderate age-related macular degeneration or early stage cataracts.These conditions are estimated to affect more than 30 million Americans. Currently, there are no preventive therapies for either. Laser surgery is the only type of treatment for age-related macular degeneration, and surgical removal is used for cataracts.

Dr. Randall J. Olson, professor and chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Utah School of Medicine, is principal investigator for the study. "We believe that over time, sunlight damages the eye, specifically the retina and the lens, in a photochemical reaction known as oxidation - the same process that causes iron to rust and apples to turn brown," Olson said. "Previous research suggests that certain vitamins and minerals protect against oxidative damage in the eye."

The study, thought to be one of the largest drug trials in ophthalmology ever conducted, will investigate the effectiveness of drugs, provided by La Haye Laboratories of Bellevue, Wash.

Clinical visits and dietary supplements will be provided to study volunteers. Study participants will receive evaluations every three months for one to two years.

For more information or to volunteer, call Mary Kelsey, study coordinator at 581-4986.

Age-related macular degeneration is characterized by a blurring of the vision. It affects the central part of the retina, the part of the eye responsible for the vision required for reading and seeing small objects. It is the leading cause of legal blindness for Americans over the age of 65, and it strikes 30 percent of the people between the age of 75 and 85.

Cataracts are characterized by cloudy and obscured vision and affect about 60 percent of Americans over the age of 52. Cataract removal surgery is performed in about 1.5 million cases annually in this country, at a cost of more than $2.5 billion.