What comes to your mind when you hear “Stargardt’s Disease”? Well, I have possible experience with this. Stargardt’s can cause you to lose vision rapidly, become legally blind, and possible color blindness.
So, What is Stargardt’s Disease? The answer is that it is an inherited juvenile macular degeneration, which is a disorder of the retina. Stargardt’s causes progressive vision loss, usually to the point of legal blindness. An estimate is that 1 in 8-10 thousand people have this disease. In rare cases, 1 in 20,000 kids and teens are diagnosed. This condition develops between the ages 6 and 20, but most people don’t notice rapid vision loss till late childhood/early adulthood. The vision loss associated with Stargardt’s is caused by the death of the photoreceptor cells. Once a visual acuity of 20/40 is reached, rapid visual loss is normal, which can lead to 20/200 or worse vision.
Okay, well what causes Stargardt’s? To start, both parents must carry the gene ABCA4. This means that even if neither of your parents have the disease, you could still develop it. And, to make things worse, vitamin A byproducts are out there, which can make vision worse if too much enters your body. Also, your rods and cones(photoreceptors) play a big role in vision loss too.
Your rods and cones detect light and convert them into electrical signals that are sent to the brain. From there, the brain is able to “see” light and other things coming, that way it can prepare the body. If damaged, this causes your eyes to take longer to adjust to light from dark, or vise-versa. This is just one of the many symptoms for Stargardt’s Disease.
Are there ways to treat or prevent it? Unfortunately, there is no current treatment. There is no way to get rid of it. But, with the latest technology, there is stem cell, gene and drug therapies available.
This means that they could, for example, take someone’s cord blood, mutate it to what needs to be in the genes, and inject this into the eye and it could help repair the genetic chain. There are also low vision aids like canes, sunglasses and guide animals to use for those who have significant loss of vision. All in all, Stargardt’s is good and bad, depending on how you look at it. It’s good because you see in your own unique way and that you see what others don’t. But, it’s not great because you can’t see well and your options of things to do are limited.
Even though people with Stargardt’s are different, we are still people and are capable of doing whatever we want in life.