According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, about 3 million Americans are affected by glaucoma and 120,000 have glaucoma-related blindness. Glaucoma refers to a family of eye diseases that deteriorate the optic nerve and often cause permanent eye damage. There are many treatments for glaucoma, but unfortunately, there is no cure for the disease.
A team of German researchers claim that breakthrough technology could help restore vision to glaucoma patients. Dr. Bernhall Sabel, a member of the medical faculty at the Otto-von-Guericke University of Magdeburg, and several colleagues suggest that electrical impulses to the brain may jump-start the brain’s visual control centers. The study findings were published June 29 in the journal PLOS One.
Dr. Bernhall and his team focused on 82 partially blind glaucoma patients between 2010 and 2012. Thirty-three patients had glaucoma, and 49 patients had other types of optic nerve damage. Forty-five of the 82 patients received a 10-day treatment regimen that included daily electrical impulses aimed into the eye. The other patients received a placebo treatment (Source: Web MD).
Two days after the treatment period ended, the group that received the electrical impulse stimulation therapy experienced an average of a 24 percent improvement in their ability to see objects across their entire field of vision. This improvement continued for an average of about two months. The control group experienced less than a 3 percent improvement, which declined to almost nothing after two months.
While one-third of the electrical stimulations patients reported no changes in their vision, Dr. Sabel said that electrical impulse stimulation could be considered safe with only minor side effects. He upheld the findings of the study, saying, “We do not need more research to show that it [is] a major step forward.”
“By giving currents through the eye, we force retinal cells connected to the brain to fire intensely,” explained Sabel. “This activates the brain’s [vision] cells to function better again. And, ‘what fires together, wires together’.”