Glaucoma: the first neurodegenerative disease we can cure?

The possibility that Glaucoma could be a.) a neurological disease and b.) curable, suggested by a new study of the disease presented January 28th by Catalyst For a Cure (CFC) at the Glaucoma Research Foundation’s 31st Anniversary Benefit and Celebration, signals a new hope for understanding and treating it.  The CFC reported that the cell death that causes vision loss in glaucoma has two distinct phases, and that axonal degeneration precedes neuronal loss, pointing to a therapeutic window for interventions. Furthermore, they found that vision loss from glaucoma can be predicted by observing changes specific to genes and proteins. These findings, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, hint at the possibility of curing the disease by stopping and perhaps even reversing damage to the optic nerve itself, as opposed to treatments aimed at the symptoms, such as those that lower the pressure within the eye.  Scientists working in this field will hope to make neurodegeneration their new target for novel therapeutic interventions that will strike before the point of irreversible damage occurs.

Although these exciting new studies hint at a new path forward, our weapon against this “point of irreversible damage “ will still be in early detection for years to come.  Two new technologies have emerged recently to help diagnose the disease with greater speed and specificity, respectively.  The TrueField Analyser, developed by Dr. Andrew James and Ted Maddess, Head of the Centre for Visual Sciences at Australian National University, uses a video camera to measures tiny pupil contractions in response to presented stimuli and is able to diagnose Glaucoma about twice as fast as conventional methods are and is at least as accurate and reproducible. Current examinations rely on patients making hundreds of difficult subjective judgments about whether or not they have seen test visual stimuli. The German company Sensimed has created the Triggerfish®, a wearable, non-invasive intraocular pressure (IOP) monitor that works continuously to aid treatment and diagnosis in glaucoma patients.  A microscopic monitoring system, loaded into a contact lens and worn throughout the day and night, provides a detailed reading of how the IOP fluctuates during sleeping and waking hours. This information can lead to more efficient and personalized treatment, whereas static  measurements currently performed by ophthalmologists during office hours do not permit monitoring of the dynamic intra-ocular pressure changes responsible for retina damage.  Glaucoma impacts two per cent of all people over the age of 50 years, or around 60 million people worldwide.

As mentioned in this article, a video interview with Jean-Marc Wismer, President & CEO of Sensimed AG

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