Novel Approach for Glaucoma Treatment Breaks Ground

Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine are using a novel approach to create a new treatment for glaucoma — a debilitating disease that causes blindness.

Glaucoma is an eye condition in which the optic nerve — which aids vision by sending visual messages to the brain — becomes damaged, often resulting in blindness. Researchers are working to develop a new therapy to treat the disease, which impacts over three million people in the United States.

The team of researchers, led by Tasneem Sharma, Ph.D., an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Indiana University School of Medicine, recently secured a $2 million grant entitled "Therapeutic Intervention to Target Human Glaucoma Pathogenesis" for their work.

“While existing treatments aim to slow disease progression, irreversible vision loss persists due to the progressive death of retinal ganglion cells, the terminal neurons,” Sharma tells Healthnews, explaining that current treatments slow the disease but do not prevent it from eventually worsening to the point of blindness. “There is a crucial need for the discovery of neuroprotective agents to prevent the loss of these cells.”

Sharma’s lab is working to develop and validate a neuroprotective strategy centered on Neuritin 1, a gene that has both the neuroprotective and regenerative capabilities needed to prevent the progression of glaucoma. The therapy involves a combination of testing human neurons and using regenerative therapy to prevent visual neurons from dying — an approach that has never been used before. Significantly, the approach harnesses the regenerative potential of stem cells.

Sharma says the aim of the research is both to understand the underlying pathology of glaucoma and to provide tangible solutions and benefits to those who suffer from it.

“Our approach seeks to enhance the well-being of glaucoma patients by not only preserving existing visual function, but also fostering the potential for functional recovery,” Sharma says.

In addition to being debilitating, Glaucoma poses a significant financial burden, costing the U.S. economy approximately $2.86 billion annually in direct expenses and productivity losses. By 2050, the number of Americans impacted by the disease is expected to increase to 6.3 million.

Sharma says, “The overarching goal is to address existing deficiencies in the spectrum of available treatment modalities for glaucoma, with a primary focus on elevating the overall quality of life for individuals affected by the disease."

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