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Promising Future in Regenerating Damaged Neurons in Glaucoma

March 16, 2015

As the medical community celebrated World Glaucoma Week earlier this month (March 8-14), scientists at the American Glaucoma Society 2015 Annual Meeting shared some important research results.

The first major step was taken towards being able to repair nerve cells in the eye damaged by glaucoma, working towards improving the vision of patients. In glaucoma patients, doctors often see extensive damage to the retinal ganglion cells. These cells cannot regenerate on their own and, it was initially believed, that they were not able to regenerating themselves at all.

Dr. Jeffrey Goldberg, MD, from the University of California at San Diego, and others have executed a number of research projects and experiments in an effort to stimulate growth in retinal ganglion cells in animals. They found that there may be a window of opportunity to heal these types of cells before they die. Using neurotrophic factors, doctors implemented a gene therapy to block the factors that limit the growth of these ganglion cells.

Stem cells have been utilized to create these neurotrophic factors for experiments as well as in an effort to create new retinal ganglion cells. Manipulating stem cells to form brand new cells has proven challenging due to complexities in the layered structure. In test animals who had healthy retinal ganglion cells, the transplant of stem cell grown cells was successful, but it is still unclear as to whether the same positive result will occur with damaged retinal ganglion cells. Despite these minor challenges, efforts continue to move forward and work to find innovative solutions to this problem.

A neurodegenerative disease

By definition, glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to the optic nerve in the eye and is often associated with a buildup of pressure inside of the eye. The condition tends to be inherited and is more likely to appear and worsen as a person ages.

In experiments such as those performed by Dr. Goldberg, MD and others, researchers found that glaucoma progresses much like other neurodegenerative diseases and is much more prevalent in people who other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Specifically, the accumulation of proteins and neuroinflammation in glaucoma are similar and raise questions about a possible link between them.

Conversely, biomechanical factors, such as the trademark intraocular pressure associated with glaucoma, separate the condition from other neurodegenerative diseases. Similarly, glaucoma affects all cells, whereas neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, tend to spare some cells.

These similarities and differences between glaucoma against neurodegenerative diseases raise an important question about the neurology behind glaucoma.

The research being conducted around the disease, specific ways to treat glaucoma and prevent ocular deterioration is promising for patients who currently suffer from the condition. While there is no cure for glaucoma, various eye drops, medications and laser/conventional surgery techniques have proven effective to slow the damage caused.

If you are interested in learning more glaucoma facts and optic nerve facts, check out our blog for more!

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