Finding: BrightFocus-funded researchers, Drs. Gareth Howell and Simon John, along with co-authors in the March 19, 2012 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, discovered that targeted treatment with X-rays in one eye of a mouse can protect that eye from getting glaucoma. Sophisticated genetics methods were used to uncover that the radiation blocks damaging immune cells from entering the optic nerve. These invading cells are thought to subsequently damage the retinal ganglion cells through inflammation, but blocking the entry of these intruders seems to provide the mice long-term protection from the damage.
Significance: This research raises the possibility that highly controlled, localized radiation treatments delivered to just the eye could be used to reduce damage or even prevent human glaucoma. Further testing is needed to make sure that immune cell entry is the main reason for the nerve damage and to uncover exactly how this happens. Human clinical trials could be a possibility once more research is completed.