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Spotlight on Research: A Time for Audacious Hope

One of the privileges of working in glaucoma research is the chance to meet some truly remarkable people who suffer from the disease.

My colleagues and I are continuously humbled by the remarkable breadth of both personal and professional accomplishment amassed by the many patients who, together with their families and friends, support efforts to find new treatments.

Sadly, some of these patients, like so many others worldwide, continue to lose vision despite efforts to lower intraocular pressure. Sometimes just lowering eye pressure is simply not enough to keep the optic nerve from degenerating. My laboratory and others like it are striving to leverage emerging information from the world of neuroscience for some means to protect the optic nerve from further damage and perhaps even restore tissue that has been already lost.

As principal investigators in the Catalyst for a Cure consortium, my laboratory at Vanderbilt helped bring important insights to the field - including the key finding that the earliest source of vision loss is at the connection to the brain.

Now, the message that we need treatments beyond pressure-lowering has made its way to our nation’s capital, or more precisely, to the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the US National Institutes of Health, which conducts and supports vision research.

Recently, the NEI revised its long-term strategic plan to include programs focused on a single “Audacious Goal”: to regenerate lost or damaged retinal and optic nerve tissues and their connections in the brain. Within this overarching theme, the NEI also established two research program announcements - one addressing how aging and diseases like glaucoma interact, and the other supporting the development of novel molecular therapies for age-related diseases like glaucoma.

For glaucoma patients, these programs are timely indeed. Glaucoma evolves on a backdrop of age-related changes that may speed progression, while the list of new “neuronal-based” targets grows in the neuroscience literature almost on a monthly basis. The NEI hopes that the Audacious Goals program will encourage inter-disciplinary efforts - like the Catalyst for a Cure - to move experimental therapies forward based on solid research data. This is timely news for patients, who desperately desire new treatments to keep pace with their own quality of life expectations.

For more information about the National Eye Institute’s Audacious Goals Program, please visit: www.nei.nih.gov/audacious
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Article by David J. Calkins, PhD, the Denis M. O'Day Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and Vice-Chairman and Director for Research at The Vanderbilt Eye Institute, Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Last reviewed on October 29, 2017

This article appeared in the May 2014 issue of Gleams.

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