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Alzheimer’s Drugs May Treat Glaucoma

November 30, 2007

Adapted from the University College London

A team of researchers at the University College London (UCL) Institute of Ophthalmology has found that a combination of treatments developed for Alzheimer's disease also has the potential to treat glaucoma, the major cause of irreversible blindness worldwide.

The project initially developed a new technology for visualizing nerve cell damage in the retina. The new technique enabled the team to discover that the protein beta-amyloid, responsible for plaque lesions in the brain in Alzheimer's patients, also causes nerve cell death in the retina.

The team then went on to look at a number of novel drugs currently undergoing clinical trials for Alzheimer's disease that target beta-amyloid with a view that could also prove to be effective in treating glaucoma. The findings are published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Project leader Dr. Francesca Cordeiro said: “We've seen for the first time that there is a clear link between what causes Alzheimer's disease and one of the basic mechanisms behind glaucoma. However, this doesn't mean that everyone with Alzheimer's will develop glaucoma or vice versa. Glaucoma has a number of risk factors.”

Glaucoma affects more than 65 million people worldwide. Little is known about what exactly causes the disease, which causes damage to the optic nerve in the eye, although the disease is traditionally attributed to increased pressure in the eye, known as ‘intraocular pressure.' The new research opens up a new avenue of treatment in glaucoma that does not involve treating intraocular pressure.

Dr. Cordeiro's team have shown that drugs working to prevent the build up of the beta-amyloid protein in Alzheimer brains can be used to treat glaucoma in animal models. One such drug, Bapineuzumab, is already being used in clinical trials to treat Alzheimer's patients. However, the team has shown that when combined with two other novel Alzheimer's treatments, the effects on glaucoma are even stronger.

“We are trying a new approach which has never been tried before, not even to treat Alzheimer's disease,” says Dr. Cordeiro. “Our success in treating glaucoma in the lab by combining different Alzheimer's treatments represents a brand new treatment strategy.”

“Many even within medicine fail to realize that the retina … is actually an extension of brain tissue, traveling down the optic nerve into the back of the eye,” said Dr. Cordeiro.

Dr. Cordeiro believes that this knowledge may mean that the eye could also be used to test potential treatments for Alzheimer's disease: “Since we have shown that drugs for Alzheimer's disease can tackle glaucoma, then potentially we could use damaged retina to screen Alzheimer's drugs that target beta-amyloid build up.”

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Some of the content in this section is adapted from other sources, which are clearly identified within each individual item of information.

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