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Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness worldwide. Vision loss from glaucoma occurs when axons in the optic nerve become damaged and can no longer carry visual information to the brain.
Glaucoma is most often treated by lowering pressure in the eye with drugs, laser surgery, or traditional surgery. However, these treatments can only preserve remaining vision; they don’t improve or restore vision that already has been lost due to glaucoma.
The nervous system is divided into the peripheral and the central systems. Damaged peripheral nerves, in your arm for example, can regenerate after injury. However, the optic nerve and the spinal cord are in the central nervous system and unfortunately cannot regenerate after injury. This is why vision loss from glaucoma, like paralysis from spinal cord injury, is permanent. The unique cellular environment of nerve cells in the central nervous system may be why regeneration is prevented.
One strategy to encourage nerve fiber growth is to remove inhibitory factors in the cellular environment. Researchers hope to prevent expression of molecules that suppress axon growth using molecular biology techniques. For example, antibodies may be introduced to block the inhibition and allow nerve fibers to re-grow. Other strategies are in development as well:
Article by Stuart J. McKinnon, MD, PhD. Dr. McKinnon is a glaucoma specialist and Associate Professor in the Departments of Ophthalmology and Neurobiology at Duke Eye Center in Durham, North Carolina. He received the 2016 Shaffer Prize for Innovative Glaucoma Research from Glaucoma Research Foundation for his study on "Neuroinflammation: The Role of Lymphocytes in Glaucoma."
This article is based on a recent “Innovations in Glaucoma” Webinar produced by Glaucoma Research Foundation.
Last reviewed on February 17, 2017
This article appeared in the September 2015 issue of Gleams.Subscribe