Scientists Seek to Better Protect The Eye from Glaucoma

Enhancing the protection of neurons in the eye may help in the battle against glaucoma, according to new research.

Current glaucoma therapies work to reduce pressure in the eye by increasing outflow and/or reducing fluid production.

Dr. Kathryn Bollinger, ophthalmologist, glaucoma specialist and retinal cell biologist, has come up with evidence that a good additional strategy to that treatment would be directly enhancing in the eye the protection of neurons, called retinal ganglion cells, hopefully by directly activating S1R, the innate neuron protector sigma 1 receptor.

“We may be able to protect the retinal ganglion cells more long term,” said Bollinger, a faculty member in the Department of Ophthalmology at the Medical College of Georgia and James and Jean Culver Vision Discovery Institute at Augusta University.

S1R stimulation has been shown to protect retinal ganglion cells in other disease models, but hers appears to be the first work in glaucoma, according to a news release from Augusta University.

Bollinger and her team are also looking at whether activating S1R, with existing drugs already used in patients for other reasons, also enables neurons to better protect themselves. In a rat model of glaucoma, Bollinger and her colleagues are further exploring the impact of activating S1R with known agents like the pain reliever pentazocine and commonly used antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

Lab animals with S1R deleted have slowly progressing, age- associated death of neurons in the eye similar to what happens in glaucoma.

While patients with glaucoma may experience some level of decreased vision, a minority will experience blindness, and there is no way to predict who those patients are and no additional means to intervene.

“Given our aging population and the fact that glaucoma is prevalent, we do see blindness secondary to glaucoma,” Bollinger said. Conversely, some patients may never experience any vision loss.

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness, and lost vision cannot currently be regained, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation. Although it tends to occur in older individuals, some babies are born with glaucoma and young adults, particularly African-Americans, can have it as well.

In glaucoma, the pressure likely builds from unhealthy changes in the drainage tracts in the front of the eye that can come with aging, like reduced flexibility and increased scarring of that delicate tissue.

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