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2018 Glaucoma Research Update: Andrew Huberman Lab (Part 1)

Andrew Huberman, PhD is a principal investigator in the Catalyst for a Cure Biomarkers Team funded by Glaucoma Research Foundation in San Francisco, CA. Catalyst for a Cure brings together scientists from different backgrounds to work collaboratively to better understand glaucoma and find ways to improve treatment and ultimately cure this blinding disease.

Watch the video for a research update from the Huberman Laboratory at Stanford University School of Medicine. The goal of the Huberman Lab is to understand how the retinal and brain circuits that underlie vision wire up during development and to develop new strategies to monitor, prevent, and treat retinal ganglion cell loss in glaucoma.

Video Transcript

Dr. Huberman: Being part of the ‘Catalyst for a Cure’ (CFC) team has impacted me in a huge number of ways. As a scientist, it's allowed my lab to shift our focus from visual system development and function to also studying visual system disease. In doing that, I've had the opportunity to interact with many people in the glaucoma field, so to speak.

This is everything from ophthalmologists who are acting in a clinical role to the general public that are concerned or interested in the topic of glaucoma to glaucoma patients that have varying levels of vision loss. Personally, those kinds of interactions have impacted me by giving me a great sensitivity to the degree to which we are dependent on vision in order to navigate our daily lives, but also it's giving me a tremendous amount of purpose and meaning in my work.

I used to come to my lab with the intention of doing the best science that we could in order to publish papers and get grants and so forth to eventually impact human disease in some way, although that direct link to human disease wasn't obvious. The goals became to be able to tell people that we were actively working on something that might help them maintain or even retrieve their vision in cases like vision loss due to glaucoma.

That's become the reality. We now have clinical trials as a result of work done in my laboratory and with the other members of the CFC. Some of those clinical trials are getting initiated in early 2018. This has given me a tremendous emotional lift. I would say it's gratifying. We still need the results, but it's been a tremendous ride and I'm looking forward to more.

Retinal ganglion cells are the neurons that link the eye to the brain. The eye’s job is to take light in the form of light energy or photons, and convert it into electrical signals and chemical signals that the rest of the nervous system and brain can understand.

The retinal ganglion cells’ job is to take those electrical signals and send them into the brain. The way they do that is by little wires that we call axons that actually exit the back of the eye in the area we call the optic nerve head. They comprise the optic nerve, and they’re literally like wires that plug the retina, the light-sensing neural tissue at the back of the eye, to the brain.

Then the brain makes sense of those neural signals so that it can understand, or you can understand, what an edge is or what a person's face is and who that person is. They're really remarkable cells in that sense. All of our vision is dependent on the electrical activity of retinal ganglion cells, really incredible cells.

When we think about neuroprotection, we're thinking about ways that we can intervene in order to bolster the health of retinal ganglion cells. Neuroprotection is giving retinal ganglion cells technologies in the form of devices or drugs that ensure that they stay healthy. Neuroenhancement would be taking an already existing ganglion cell that's either healthy or sick and improving its health.

You can think about the treatment of a blinding disease like glaucoma as requiring a couple different things. One, if you have healthy retinal ganglion cells, we want to know how to keep those ganglion cells around in order to maintain what visual capacity they carry.

The other approach is for ganglion cells that are sick, that are kind of teetering on the edge to varying extents: you want to shift them back towards a healthy state. Then finally, for cells that are really sick, you want to be able to rescue those cells, to resurrect them from almost dead to alive and healthy.

End transcript.

Last reviewed on April 23, 2019

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