Doctors believe Fenretinide, which is derived from vitamin A, could halt the advance of macular degeneration (AMD) - a disease for which there is currently no cure.
Researchers have discovered that the drug can help stop "dry" AMD which is caused by the destruction of cells in macula, the part of the retina which allows you to see straight ahead.
In a US study it, was given to 250 people with "dry" AMD. It was found to halt the deterioration of eyesight by protecting healthy cells but not stopping the destruction of cells that were already damaged.
AMD affects millions across the world and 300,000 Britons. The number of UK sufferers could more than treble to one million within 25 years as the population ages.
Dr Jason Slakter from New York University School of Medicine where the study was carried out, said:
‘There are currently no effective treatments for dry AMD and the need for finding one is grave. Our study wasn’t designed to give a final answer, it was designed to see if there was a biological effect and if the drug was working in the way we’d expect and to find out if it was well tolerated by patents.
I think we answered all of these points favourably. The bottom line is that I am excited about doing more studies.’
Further trials are planned for later in the year and if successful the drug could become widely available within 5 years.