Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness among Americans over the age of 60, with more than three million individuals who are affected. Unlike cataracts, which can be removed, glaucoma does not have a known cure. This age-related eye disease can develop slowly and without warning, permanently reducing field of vision with no method of restoration.
The optic nerve is like a cable with many intertwined fibers. Glaucoma places stress on the fibers of the optic nerve and damages it, which can result in blindness. A group of researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital are attempting to develop a medication that could reverse vision loss from optic nerve stress. Their most recent study in the journal Cell shares a unique combination of drugs that may help restore vision in those who suffer from glaucoma.
Dr. Zhigang He, a neurology researcher, and a team of colleagues from Boston Children’s Hospital have done something that has never been done before: regenerating new nerve fibers. Using mice as subjects, the team created a channel-blocking drug to help stimulate impulses from the eye to the brain. The team deleted specific pairs of genes in the mice, which facilitated regeneration of links called axons between the brain and the optic nerve fibers. Not only is this the first time that axons have been regenerated, it is the first time that they have been regrown without affecting the protective sheath around the nerve called the myelin.
To test the efficacy of the drug cocktail to regenerate the optic nerve fibers, Dr. He and his team administered the drug cocktail to random mice and moved a set of thick and thin bars in front of the mice. The thinner bars were more difficult to pick up, so the team could easily identify that the drugs had helped regrow nerve signals (Source: Medical Daily).
“By making the bars thinner and thinner, we found that the animals could not only see, but they improved significantly in how well they could see,” He said. “The drugs might need to be paired with visual training to facilitate recovery. But now we have a paradigm to push forward.”
The team hopes that the same positive results can be seen in humans in the future. Glaucoma, the “sneak thief of sight,” may have just been caught red-handed.