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The Catalyst For a Cure (CFC) consortium has made many strides over the past several years, but perhaps none were bigger than their nine presentations at this year’s Association for Research in Vision & Ophthalmology (ARVO) meeting.
ARVO is the largest vision research organization in the world. Each spring, 10,000 scientists and physicians meet to present their latest results to their peers. This year, the group of CFC investigators presented a variety of new findings aimed at deciphering the intricacies of glaucoma. Each of the four institutions involved in the CFC presented their work, which was welcomed by other scientists and created palpable excitement for the ambitious nature of the project.
Dr. Monica Vetter’s group (University of Utah) had a very eventful spring, as she was involved in multiple presentations at ARVO and also had a paper published in the journal Neuron in April 2005. In conjunction with Dr. Nick Marsh-Armstrong (Johns Hopkins University), Dr. Vetter’s investigations focused on precursor cells that are present in the developing nervous system and provide the pool of cells that will eventually become mature neurons. Neurons are the cells within the eye and brain that process and carry information. Dr. Vetter’s work is focused on how genes are regulated within the neurons that allow them to act as precursor cells. Because glaucomatous vision loss results from loss of neurons within the retina and optic nerve, identifying how precursor cells could be turned on to become new healthy neurons may provide an important therapeutic option for glaucoma in the future. Dr. Marsh-Armstrong also presented work examining the role that genes play in the degeneration of retinal cells. As well, the entire CFC group participated in a presentation regarding the activation of various genes in glaucoma, which received much attention.
Dr. David Calkins (Vanderbilt University) presented work from his ongoing investigations examining the potential role of glial cells in glaucoma. In addition to neurons, the retina, optic nerve and brain also have a second, large population of cells—glial cells. Glial cells help to support the neurons and are critical to the health and normal function of the eye and brain. Dr. Calkins and his team have shown that glial cells can be stimulated by pressure to produce products that may be either protective or destructive to their neighboring neurons. This may be analogous to how increased intraocular pressure results in neuron death in glaucoma. Glial cells react to pressure by producing a substance that is often associated with inflammation in the brain. Depending on the amount of this substance and its source, it may either work to protect the neurons or to destroy them. Many investigators now believe that understanding the role of glial cells in the eye may lead to novel therapies for glaucoma.
Dr. Philip Horner’s group (University of Washington) presented work on the relationship between blood flow to the eye and glaucoma. Dr. Horner examined the number and size of blood vessels within the eye in a model of glaucoma. He was looking for evidence of blood-flow dysregulation in response to the glaucoma. He found that the cells that support the blood vessels, pericytes, are decreased in glaucoma, but not in normal aging. In addition, the glaucomatous eyes had fewer blood vessels and pericytes as the optic nerve damage progressed. As pericytes not only support the blood vessels but also control the flow of blood within the vessels, these findings may point to altered blood-flow being a cause of damage in glaucoma.
These are just a few examples of the many exciting presentations given by the CFC team at ARVO. The promise of unraveling the molecular basis for glaucomatous optic nerve damage drives many vision scientists. By presenting their work at ARVO, the CFC investigators have taken another large step toward helping solve the mechanisms that underlie this disease. ARVO provides an important opportunity for scientists to exchange their ideas and to obtain critical appraisals from their peers. This helps them to return to their home institutions with new ideas for future work. The presentations from the CFC group at this year’s ARVO meeting should benefit both the CFC investigators and the worldwide glaucoma research community for years to come.
Article by G.A. Cioffi, MD, Chief of Ophthalmology and Director of the Glaucoma Service at Devers Eye Institute, Legacy Health System, in Portland, Oregon. He is board certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology, is Co-Editor of the Journal of Glaucoma, and serves as the Chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Glaucoma Research Foundation.
Last reviewed on February 27, 2011
This article appeared in the September 2005 issue of Gleams.Subscribe