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What is neuroprotection and how does it apply to glaucoma treatment?
Neuroprotection is a broad term to cover any therapeutic strategy to prevent nerve cells called neurons from dying, and it usually involves an intervention, either a drug or treatment.
There is significant amount of scientific work that is currently going on in this area, but much more research is needed to identify the best pathways to target for neuroprotection.
The eye is the most accessible part of the central nervous system. The eye and the nerves that are in the retina represent an integral part of the brain. If you have problems in most regions of the spinal cord and brain, they are mostly inaccessible. But in diseases of the eye, we have much more opportunity for direct intervention, which makes it ideal for studying neuroprotection. However, until recently, not much thought and effort has been directed to promoting neuroprotection for glaucoma.
For glaucoma, as well as for other neurodegenerative diseases, the goal is to keep the neurons alive and to prevent cell death.
A significant finding of the Catalyst For a Cure research team is the finding that there are several prominent changes in the axons, or processes of nerve cells in the eye, that occur well before there is damage and cell death due to glaucoma.
This suggests that we may be able to detect the progression of glaucoma well before those cells are lost and before the disease has advanced.
The CFC scientists are studying genetic changes in glaucoma to help determine which molecules and events are directly responsible for neuronal damage.
The more we understand about these processes, the more we can focus on identifying which genes may be regulated to slow the progression of glaucoma.
Thanks to recent progress in scientific research, particularly in the area of genetic studies and neuroprotection strategies, it is very likely that in the next few years we will produce new neuroprotective therapies for treating glaucoma that will slow progression of the disease.
However, because new drugs require many confirmatory tests and approval from the FDA, it could take up to 10 years before a drug can be used by patients.
Article by Moses V. Chao, PhD, Professor of Cell Biology, Physiology, and Neuroscience at New York University Medical Center, and Chairman of the Catalyst For a Cure Scientific Advisory Board.
Last reviewed on October 29, 2017