Glaucoma is the result of increased intraocular pressure (IOP) and damage to the optic nerve, the nerve that carries visual information from the eye to the brain. At first, glaucoma affects side or peripheral vision, which means a person can lose as much as 40% of his or her vision before even noticing a change. And vision loss from glaucoma is irreversible. This is why glaucoma has been nicknamed the “silent thief of sight” or the “sneak thief of sight.”
Glaucoma is currently the second leading cause of blindness globally, affecting 60 million people worldwide and 3 million Americans. However, researchers at Stanford University, in conjunction with the National Eye Institute and the Glaucoma Research Foundation, may be on the verge of a breakthrough.
Vision Lost and Found
New research by Andrew Huberman, PhD, an associate professor of neurobiology, points to the potential of regenerative therapies for damaged cells – help for glaucoma patients who have lost vision. In a study published in the scientific journal Nature Neuroscience, Dr. Huberman describes the success he has had with blind mice by conditioning injured optic nerve cells (retinal ganglion cells) to regenerate. The mice have actually regained partial eyesight. Dr. Huberman’s approach combines genetic and visual stimulation to enhance neural activity. The research team discovered that over time this approach was able to trigger the once-injured retinal cells to regrow optic nerve fibers along damaged pathways to the brain, resulting in the restoration of limited eyesight.
While it is still much too early to tell how this breakthrough will affect the glaucoma community, the initial results are exciting. Dr. Huberman’s research demonstrated for the first time that damaged retinal ganglion cells have the capacity to re-establish connections to the brain to restore vision.
“What they have shown in an animal model is that maybe we can restore vision by reconnecting the nerve cells that are damaged,” said Thomas M. Brunner, President and CEO of the Glaucoma Research Foundation. “Their research shows that there may be promise for people, where we think vision is permanently gone, to restore it.”
However, until this new approach is tested further, early detection and vigilant treatment – medication, lasers, or surgery – remain the best ways to prevent major vision loss from glaucoma. With such intervention vision can be preserved 95% of the time or more.
Glaucoma Treatment in Maryland
The Anne Arundel Eye Center, led by board certified ophthalmologist Dr. Samuel Boles, is a regional leader in the diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma and cataracts. Staffed by caring and knowledgeable professionals, AAEC’s state-of-the-art treatment center is dedicated to making the best eye care accessible to everyone.
If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Samuel Boles, Dr. Nicole Kershner Regis, Dr. Kathryn Turner, and the eye care specialists here at AAEC by calling 410-224-2010. AAEC is staffed by caring and knowledgeable professionals who will help guide you on your healing journey.
Sources: San Francisco Business Times, Nature Neuroscience, The Pew Charitable Trusts