Fueled by new initiatives and interdisciplinary collaborative efforts, glaucoma research has been advancing at a furious pace. New techniques and tools from the lab are moving into clinicians' hands and a future cure may very well be in sight. We highlight some of this exciting work below and peek into the future of glaucoma research.
Catalyst for a Cure, developed by the Glaucoma Research Foundation, brings together interdisciplinary research and cuts across fields to link specialists together in order to accelerate the pace of discovery in pursuit of a cure for glaucoma. It brings together scientists from various backgrounds to work in collaboration, finds ways to improve treatment and develop a cure for this debilitating disease. Recently, scientists at Catalyst for a Cure have found that the key cell type that is affected in glaucoma, the retinal ganglion cell, does not die early on in the disease process; rather, its death is delayed. This finding has ushered in a new way of thinking about the disease. Since the progressive degenerative process is very slow, scientists and doctors are now framing the problem as a question of how to prevent or slow this degeneration process enough to reduce the progress of the disease and thereby preserve vision for a person’s lifetime.
Further, scientists have traditionally thought of glaucoma as a ganglion cell disease. Catalyst for a Cure has also shown that the data suggests that many other cells in the retina are impacted or contribute equally to the decline of the ganglion cells. This finding is important as it gives researchers other targets to study. Additional cell types are important to the function of the ganglion cell. Targeting these additional cell types allows for broader interventions than previously thought. Such data suggests that master programs for degeneration might exist. Cells under stress are predicted to communicate with the additional cell types and lead to degeneration. Once the coordinator of all these systems is found, scientists will be able to target interventions and turn off the master program. This could lead to a cure for glaucoma.
Finally, scientists are looking for new biomarkers in the quest for novel glaucoma treatments. Again the research has targeted the various kinds of ganglion cells. Different types of ganglion cells focus on varied types of visual information. For example, some relate to motion in the visual field. If it is found that glaucoma patients lose many of these cells early in the disease then this opens up noninvasive means to diagnose patients. By measuring response to motion in potential glaucoma patients, clinicians could detect the presence of the disease before more serious pressure increases or holes in their visual field developed. New noninvasive diagnostics such as these represent a great leap forward for clinicians and are the direct product of recent laboratory research.
Rethinking the cellular basis of glaucoma is producing tremendous results that are moving from the laboratory and into the clinic at ever faster rates. Scientists are closing in on this neurodegenerative disease and giving new hope to those suffering from glaucoma.