Glaucoma: Advancements and Research

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Dr. Guy Eakin and Donald Zack, M.D., Ph.D

In this audio presentation, Dr. Guy Eakin, Vice President of Scientific Affairs at the BrightFocus Foundation, and Donald Zack, M.D., Ph.D., from Johns Hopkins University talk about the importance of research in finding a cure for glaucoma and important areas of research, including genetics, understanding how damage occurs to the optic nerve, vision restoration, and other topics. This information is designed for anyone who has glaucoma or is caring for a family member or friend who has this eye disease.

  • Dr. Guy Eakin: Today I am talking about glaucoma, the leading cause of irreversible vision loss and ultimately blindness.

    Now, I am going to talk about exciting new advancements in glaucoma research. Currently, there is no cure for glaucoma. Research is the only way new treatments and the ultimate cure for glaucoma will be found. Scientists worldwide are working tirelessly to learn more about this disease and ultimately find a way to cure glaucoma. Current research is examining the role of heredity in glaucoma by studying specialized groups of people with higher prevalences for glaucoma.

    Dr. Donald Zack: So there is a very a large genetic study undergoing now, which is looking at thousands of patients and looking at their DNA, to try to find genes that increase the risk for glaucoma. And if those are identified, that might be very useful for looking for the evaluation and the diagnosis of glaucoma and also prognosis. If we understand the genes that cause glaucoma, that may teach us about the mechanisms that cause it, so we can develop new treatments. Another interesting and important area of glaucoma is trying to understand how damage takes place. We know that pressure is involved, but pressure is not the only part of glaucoma. Ultimately what's important is the death of retinal ganglion cells. Those are the cells that send their fibers from the eye to higher centers in the brain. So our lab and other labs are trying to understand the molecular mechanisms by which ganglion cells die. Once we understand how they die, we can hopefully try to figure out ways to keep them alive. One method that people are using now is growing these retinal ganglion cells in little culture dishes and then we can add various drugs or other molecules and find so-called neuroprotective strategies to promote survival. These approaches probably will not replace eye pressure, but they will compliment it. So using eye drops plus neuroprotective drops might be helpful.

    Dr. Guy Eakin: Vision restoration is an area of intense research as well. Currently, loss sight is permanently lost. However, much work is focused on helping patients regain that lost vision. Some techniques use stem cell like cells to rebuild the damaged tissue. Other techniques help sick cells better control and repair damage before death of those cells can occur.

    Dr. Donald Zack: A number of labs are trying to figure out how to take stem cells and make them differentiate into retinal ganglion cells, so those theoretically could be used either to help the current ganglion cells survive or maybe someday to replace ganglion cells that are already sick and died.

    Dr. Guy Eakin: One day glaucoma will be a disease of history. You can help make that history in many ways. Signing up to donate your eyes to research through organ donation programs is one very easy and very generous way you can help promote research.

    Discuss with your eye care provider how frequently you should be receiving eye exams and consider supporting research through tax deductible gifts. Remember, only through research will the ultimate cures be found.

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