As you may or may not know, January was National Glaucoma Month. We posted that special article out about it, but some stuff didn’t make the cut; specifically this new study which may lead towards a cure for glaucoma and other degenerative diseases. We weren’t about to lump this exciting news into any old article. This needs its own article!
A recent study done on blind mice may be the missing link between not having a cure and having a cure for glaucoma. This study, published in Nature Neuroscience, revealed that the mice’s optic nerves could be regrown towards the brain, perhaps meaning naturally restored vision.
The Struggle for a Cure
The struggle for a cure to this horrible disease that affects so many has been a long time coming. Until now, the only thing that could be done about glaucoma was to treat it. Treatments often only work to slow the progress of the disease but does not restore or improve lost vision.
Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in America today. According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, 10 percent of all people with glaucoma will lose their vision regardless of it they receive proper treatment or not. It is though that three million people in America have glaucoma but only about half of those people actually know they have it.
That’s a scary thought. Glaucoma is a disease that will sneak up on you if you aren’t paying attention. By the time you notice something is wrong, it may be too late to repair the damage.
But it isn’t all bad news! The search for a cure through nerve regrowth actually began 10 years ago, but progress has been slow. When the research for optic nerve growth began, researchers found that if the old nerve could be removed, then that would allow new working nerves to grow in its place.
Initially, this was a great success. Nerve regrowth was completely possible. And because the cells are the patient’s own cells there was a microscopic chance that the body would reject them.
The new cells were grown in a dish separate from the eye, which is where researchers hit a wall. Being grown in a dish outside of the eye meant that it would be very difficult to attach the nerve to the retina and the brain. This is where optic nerve growth has been stuck.
Optic Nerve Regrowth in Mice
That’s where research has been halted until now. This new study conducted on blind mice has shown that there is a way for the optic nerve to grow towards the brain! This new discovery sent research flying a thousand steps forward.
Instead of removing the cell and re-growing it in a dish outside of the mice’s eyes, these researchers took a different approach. Their methods involved using gene therapy techniques on the mice as well as visual stimulation. What they aimed to achieve with these methods was to trigger optic nerve growth in the mice’s eyes.
It worked because soon enough the mice’s optic nerves began to grow towards the brain. Though not all the cells regrew, enough grew so that the blind mice became mice that could see certain things.
The mice’s vision was partially restored due to this regrowth. Only a fraction of the cells in their eyes regrew but it was enough to improve their vision, but not quite enough to reconnect the nerves to the brain. More research on how to achieve this step is still needed, but science is very close.
What Comes Next
However big a breakthrough the study with the blind mice was, there still continues to be much research to be done. Getting the new growing nerves to attach to the brain is how we will restore vision and cure glaucoma once and for all.
A cure may not be here just yet but it is definitely on the horizon. We can feel it and so can scientists! Researchers are so close they can taste it. What is left to do now is to test this on human participants.
Knowing that optic nerve regrowth is possible in animals was a fantastic first step, but now researchers need to test how the gene therapy and visual stimulation will affect human subjects. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find people who are willing to participate in these sorts of human trials.
However, these methods of promoting regrowth do point to leading towards successful therapies to treat degenerative diseases like glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Keeping an Eye Out for Glaucoma
Truly the only way to be absolutely certain that you have glaucoma is to have your eyes checked. So the next time you are at your eye doctor for an exam, ask them to perform a special one for glaucoma. Often a standard comprehensive eye exam does not include a glaucoma exam unless requested or your doctor may suspect you have it.
These glaucoma exams can be administered in a number of ways, but they all test to find out the same thing. Is your intraocular pressure level normal or is completely out of whack? If it’s the latter, you and your doctor will have to take the next steps to protect your vision from diminishing.
But eye doctor appointments only come once a year or once every two years. How can you keep an eye out for glaucoma in the meantime? Here are a few signs that may be indicators of developing glaucoma:
- Blurred vision
- Severe eye pain
- Headaches due to eye pain
- Nausea or vomiting due to eye pain
- Jarring or sudden vision loss
You need to really listen to your body. Our eyes don’t always let us know when something’s wrong. But, if you detect it early, glaucoma can be manageable. To those with glaucoma or those whose lives have been affected by this disease, hold your heads up high. A cure is coming.