31 January 2013
To ASPREE participants and interested parties
Recently you may have heard press reports that suggested aspirin might worsen an infrequent type of the eye disease called age – related macular degeneration or AMD. This is a condition of the eyes that in advanced cases causes severe vision loss.
We write to reassure all our participants that this is simply one report that in no way means that aspirin caused the problem. It is important to stress that the report does not say that aspirin caused this one type of AMD. A number of important facts were not made clear in these reports:
1. Because aspirin is such an important and commonly used drug many dozens of reports occur each year in medical journals and magazines describing benefits and risks in different medical conditions.
2. In the case of macular degeneration, there have been a series of previous reports with roughly an equal number of papers suggesting that aspirin may be of benefit.
3. The fact is that we do not know what effect aspirin has on macular degeneration at this time. There is just as much chance that aspirin might stop or delay the development of AMD as it might contribute to problems in the advanced form of the disease. The authors of last week’s report (and other commentators) acknowledge that we need a large clinical trial to provide strong evidence one way or the other.
4. ASPREE has become an important study to resolve this question. Last year the National Health and Medical Research Council, the peak government funding body in Australia, provided the ASPREE team with $900,000 dollars to clarify the effect of aspirin on AMD.
5. ASPREE is continually monitored by a committee of senior specialists who will not hesitate to change trial procedures if aspirin appears to be doing more harm than good.
Some signs of AMD are very common in people aged 70 and over and usually cause no problems with vision. Only in a small number of people does AMD threaten sight – most will have been advised by their GP or ophthalmologist if this is the case. AMD is yet another medical condition where ASPREE will provide important information that will be used by doctors throughout the world.
We realise that the press reports may have caused concern to some people because they did not portray the whole picture and we hope to have clarified any concerns you, your family or friends may have had.
If you are concerned that you may have AMD, please contact your GP or ophthalmologist. To speak to an ASPREE team member, please ring 1800 728 745 or visit www.aspree.org for more information about the topic.
We continue to be very grateful to our ASPREE participants for helping us understand some of the most important and relevant questions in medicine.
Professor John McNeil, Principal Investigator of ASPREE, Head, Department of Epidemiology & Preventive Medicine, Monash University and
Professor Robyn Guymer, Head, Macular Research Unit, Centre for Eye Research Australia, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Melbourne