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Curing Glaucoma: A Video Message from the President

Imagine what it would be like to be blind.

You couldn’t drive, let alone get around easily on your own. Just fixing a meal or getting dressed would be a challenge. Now imagine going slowly blind from glaucoma. There are no symptoms so as much as half your vision could be lost before you notice. And that vision is permanently gone. Driving at night may be difficult and seeing a curb or step could be hard and dangerous. Large print and magnifiers may be needed to read. There are 120,000 people in the United States blind from glaucoma and more than 3 million Americans have glaucoma and are at risk of vision loss.

I’m Tom Brunner, President and CEO of the Glaucoma Research Foundation. My job is to prevent blindness from glaucoma. To find a cure for glaucoma so millions of people around the world won’t have to fear blindness.

What is glaucoma? Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve, a bundle of nerves that carry the images from our eye to our brain so we can see the world around us, so we can read and work and travel and see our families and friends. As these nerves slowly die from glaucoma, the connection to the brain is lost and vision is gone. While glaucoma is primarily an age related disease, it also affects new-born babies, children, and young adults. Typically, there are no symptoms which is why it’s important to get regular eye exams especially if you’re at higher risk for glaucoma. Those at increased risk include anyone with a family history of glaucoma, with Black, Asian, or Latin background, and all of us as we become less young. By age 80 as many as one in eight may have glaucoma. As we all live longer, blindness from glaucoma becomes a serious risk. By 2030 it is estimated that 80 million people worldwide will have glaucoma. Early diagnosis and treatment can usually prevent vision loss. But some of us will go blind despite the very best treatments available today.

That inability to halt blindness from glaucoma inspired the founding of the Glaucoma Research Foundation. Three glaucoma specialists in San Francisco decided to do something about glaucoma the only way they knew how. Through research. They started Glaucoma Research Foundation to fund research to find better treatments and one day, a cure. Since 1978 Glaucoma Research Foundation has invested in research to understand how the optic nerve is damaged in glaucoma and to provide educational information for patients and families on how to live with glaucoma. Our founders, along with the patients and families who support Glaucoma Research Foundation, continue to inspire us with their vision of a world free from glaucoma. Today Glaucoma Research Foundation is the largest and oldest national non-profit focused specifically on finding a cure for glaucoma.

Glaucoma Research Foundation initiated and funded a collaborative Catalyst for a Cure team of scientists to discover how glaucoma damages the optic nerve. Bringing together neuroscientists and molecular biologists, the Catalyst for a Cure team of laboratories identified some of the earliest changes to the optic nerve and tested new treatments to preserve vision. Their discoveries inspired other labs and scientists and led to a resurgence of interest in protecting the optic nerve from glaucoma damage. Today the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health has set as its new, 10 year, Audacious Goal, the restoration or regeneration of the optic nerve. Again, Glaucoma Research Foundation was a catalyst for this remarkable national imperative to cure vision loss from glaucoma.

Research holds the answer…and the cure. But research takes time and money. And ultimately new therapies need FDA approval. Again leading the way as a catalyst for a cure, Glaucoma Research Foundation is currently funding a collaboration of four laboratories and scientists to identify new biomarkers for glaucoma. These biomarkers or biological measures, will enable earlier diagnosis and better treatment by showing the effectiveness of therapy before there is vision loss. Imaging scientists working together with neuroscientists and glaucoma specialists are testing these new markers to determine how they predict and correlate with changes to the optic nerve that lead to vision loss. These new biomarkers could also become new treatment targets to prevent vision loss and may help identify possible cures. And importantly, a new biomarker could help speed the process of FDA approval and encourage the development of new drugs to treat and cure glaucoma.

We know that research is the answer. Research built on the knowledge and discoveries of many scientists and laboratories.

As genes related to glaucoma are identified and causes of damage to the optic nerve defined, we see the step by step progress toward a cure. Today we can fix genes and slow nerve damage. We can even grow new nerves and connect them to the brain. In the years ahead we will see unimagined breakthroughs that will fulfill our vision of a world free from glaucoma. Just as other medical and technological breakthroughs take time, money and commitment, so, too, will curing glaucoma.

Think of the capability of your smart phone - a super computer that you hold in your hand. 60 years ago, the same computing power would have filled an entire room with a 30-ton machine and there would still have been no internet to provide instant communication around the world.

Investing in glaucoma will result in the same miraculous advances. Together we must continue to prioritize this effort and see it through. With your help we will continue to be a catalyst for a cure.

Thank you for your ongoing support and for believing in a world free from glaucoma. With your support the cure is truly in sight.

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Thomas M. Brunner, President and CEO, joined Glaucoma Research Foundation in 2003 after a successful 30-year career in the ophthalmic laser business, during which he helped introduce major advances in eye care including laser photocoagulation to prevent vision loss from diabetic retinopathy, laser treatment of secondary cataracts, and laser treatment for glaucoma.

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