Optic Nerve Regrowth in Mice May Lead to New Treatment for Glaucoma

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.

Optic Nerve Regrowth in Mice May Lead to New Treatment for GlaucomaGlaucoma 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.

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4 comments to Optic Nerve Regrowth in Mice May Lead to New Treatment for Glaucoma
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  1. Steve Crenshaw #

    I have glaucoma and I truly hope that you guys will get cure for my eyes real soon because as of now I haven’t to use the eyes drops for my eyes and in my right eye it has been effected and hope you guys will have a cure for us very soon please

  2. Jack #

    I recently read that they have discovered that stem cell surgery cues glaucoma and that it was successful in the treatment of mice. I hope that’s true for all concerned.

  3. Terence Garvey #

    I do not have glaucoma. But I have great interest in this research because I’ve recently experienced an ischemic event in my right eye due to optic nerve drusen.

    Here are my details. I am 70 years old, in reasonably good health and I have optic nerve drusen. They run in the family. My 75 year old sister has them and my 34 year old daughter has them. I’ve been having periodic field vision test for years as I’ve watched the peripheral vision disappear in both eyes. Field vision tests over the past several years have been static. I have lost approximately 1/4 of my field vision in both eyes localizing in the lower left quadrant of my right eye and lower right quadrant of my left eye before the “event”. The left eye, which also has astigmatism, has been the worse of the two eyes in terms of peripheral vision.
    On January 3, 2018, I experienced an anterior optic ischemic neuropathy (AION) in my right eye. I really don’t know when it happened. I was on travel at the time and noticed some difficulty driving that night. The next day, I discovered significant vision loss in my right eye by covering each eye with my hand. At the time, I described the sensation as looking through a dense lace curtain. The majority of the loss was in the lover right quadrant. Vision loss progressed for the next 3 to 5 days at which time it seemed to start to reverse. As I write this post, it is March 12 and I believe the reversal has stopped. At this time, my right eye is virtually non-functional. It’s still like looking through a lace curtain, only slightly less dense. Depth perception is gone. If I hold a printed page in front of my right eye with the left eye blocked, I can read no words. The center area is completely gray. I can peripherally see a few letters.
    At the time the ischemic event occurred, I was in the process of setting up surgery for cataracts in both eyes. My routine ophthalmologist had brought in a retina specialist 18 months earlier when he noticed that the drusen seemed to be causing the retina in each eye to split (not detach). That retina specialist had cautioned against doing the cataract surgery for fear of triggering an ischemic event and then, as the cataracts became increasingly worse, both ophthalmologists agreed to proceed with the surgery. And then the ischemic event occurred before the cataract surgery could be performed.
    I’ve now been examined by three ophthalmologists, the last being Dr. Thomas Hedges at Tufts University. Dr. Hedges pretty much confirmed the diagnosis and prognosis of the other two ophthalmologists. He informed me of the following:
    1. He recommended that I discuss having a 24 hour blood pressure monitoring to see if my blood pressure was dropping below desired levels. Low blood pressure could cause an ischemic event in my left (“good”) eye.
    2. He said that any reversal of the effects to my right eye would end within 6 months.
    3. He said there is a 20% chance I will have an ischemic event in my left eye in the next 5 years with a higher probability beyond that period.
    4. He told me to call him should I experience an ischemic event in my left eye. When asked, he said he did not know what he would recommend at such a time.
    I’m an engineer by profession. And I tend to think like an engineer. I’ve got to say that I’ve been disappointed with the answers to my questions regarding research that could help me. I get it that the optic nerve is profoundly damaged in my right eye and that there is no way to fix it. But no doctor seems to be willing to talk to me about ways to prevent the left eye from experiencing an ischemic event other than to keep my blood pressure high. And how does one do that?
    During my appointment with the retina specialist this morning, I tried to get him to discuss some ideas I had on how to perform cataract surgery on my left eye when that eye is so affected by the cataract that I have nothing to lose. I first asked him what he thought about performing cataract surgery in the right (bad) eye to see how the optic nerve with its drusen would respond – NOT to improve the vision in the eye. He didn’t seem to think it was a good idea but didn’t really explain. When I pushed the matter he conceded that it could be of some value. Since his primary concern with doing the cataract surgery in the left (good) eye was that a drop in eye pressure resulting from the incision could cause an ischemic event, thinking as the engineer that I am, and admittedly, out of the box, I asked him if there was a way to perform the surgery in an atmosphere pressurized to equal the pressure inside the eye to prevent the pressure drop in the eye. I got the impression, at this point, that I had 10 heads. I also asked him if he knew of any specialists who might be better equipped to deal with my unique circumstances. He said he knew of no such person other than a doctor he had encountered who is elderly implying that he would not be a good choice.
    So, here I sit, a ticking time bomb, waiting for the day I get to walk with a red and white stick. Great prospect. If anyone has any thoughts that you think might be of interest to me, please post them in response to this post. In the meantime, I will be looking for other places on the web to post my story.
    Thanks for taking the time to read this.
    v/r
    Terry Garvey

    • Cheryl Donakowski #

      Terry there Group on face book called naaion
      Look it up and join. I’m n there under Cheryl Donakowski

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