Unlocking the Genetics of Glaucoma in Africa

  • Science News
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A graphic with text: She sees her work as a way to...honor my grandfather, an ophthalmologist who provided eye treatment to Aboriginal Australians.

Working to save sight, BrightFocus’ National Glaucoma Research program is supporting Kathryn Burdon, PhD, of Australia’s University of Tazmania and Girum Gessesse, MD, of Ethiopia’s St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College to expand our scientific understanding of glaucoma in Africa.

The majority of glaucoma research has studied white populations in Europe and the United States.  Now, with this upcoming study, scientists will examine genetic variants in hopes of better meeting the needs of those at higher risk of vision loss, while also reducing the medication burden for those at lower risk.  Their work will begin by focusing on patients in Ethiopia, and then broaden by comparing their research findings with other studies of African populations. 

“Although Sub-Saharan Africa is with the highest prevalence of glaucoma with particularly worse outcomes, research undertakings on the disease are very limited in the region.  We need to do much more,” said Gessesse.  “Research on glaucoma is very important for better understanding of the clinical, epidemiological, and genetic nature of the disease, for evidence-based decision making in our clinical work, and also for planning and policy-making by the government.”

Burdon credits her grandfather for her inspiration.  “He was an ophthalmologist who provided eye treatment to Aboriginal Australians to ensure they got the care they needed.  When the opportunity came to do a PhD in the genetics of eye disease, it seemed like the perfect way to combine my interests and honor the earlier work of my grandfather preventing blindness.  I still strive towards this goal every day.”