Glaucoma, a family of diseases that damages the optic nerve, is one of the leading causes of vision loss. Although it affects 60 million people worldwide, glaucoma is a challenging disease to diagnose. Patients often do not experience symptoms until permanent vision loss has occurred. Sadly, one in 10 glaucoma patients worldwide will lose sight in both eyes.
Researchers at University College London and the Western Eye Hospital have developed a simple, inexpensive diagnostic tool that allows for visualization of individual nerve cell death. This is an exciting breakthrough in the field of glaucoma research because there is currently no cure for glaucoma. Early diagnosis means earlier treatment and, ultimately, preservation of vision.
According to Professor Francesca Cordeiro at UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, research team leader, “Detecting glaucoma early is vital as symptoms are not always obvious. Although detection has been improving, most patients have lost a third of vision by the time they are diagnosed. Now, for the first time, we have been able to show individual cell death and detect the earliest signs of glaucoma. While we cannot cure the disease, our test means treatment can start before symptoms begin. In the future, the test could also be used to diagnose other neurodegenerative diseases.”
The new technique is known as DARC, which stands for detection of apoptosing retinal cells. A uniquely designed fluorescent marker attaches to cell proteins when injected into patients. Eye specialists will be able to identify diseased cells because they will appear as fluorescent white spots. The best part about DARC is that it uses equipment that is already routinely used in hospital eye examinations.
Clinical trials for DARC are complete, but further studies are required before it can be used by hospitals and, eventually, opticians. Cordeiro and the research team hope that DARC technology may be instrumental in early diagnosis of other degenerative neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis (Source: Science Daily).
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