By: Susan Q. Stranahan | Source: AARP Bulletin Today | September 8, 2009
• A new type of eye drop appears to halt some sight loss in patients with glaucoma.
• Because the treatment is still experimental, it will take at least six years before it might be available.
Italian researchers have developed an eye drop that may one day be able to restore the vision of people who have lost part of their vision to glaucoma.
In people with glaucoma, the second leading cause of blindness worldwide, increased pressure in the eye damages the optic nerve. About 4 million Americans have glaucoma—but half don’t know it because there are often no symptoms until vision begins to dim. By the time glaucoma is diagnosed, optic nerve pressure can be controlled, but the damage to eyesight can’t be reversed.
In the study, researchers in Rome gave laboratory rats with glaucoma eye drops containing a molecule with proteins that signal cells to survive, differentiate or grow. When the rats’ eyesight improved, the researchers gave the drops to three patients with advanced glaucoma, each of whom had significant vision loss. Two patients showed improved vision, and the third had his vision stabilized, according to a study published in August in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The new drops hold out the possibility of restoring vision, says Alessandro Lambiase, M.D., assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Rome Campus Bio-Medico, and lead author of the study. The significance of the study, he says, is that it is the first to demonstrate visual improvement in patients with advanced optic nerve damage.
Large clinical trials will be required to confirm these early findings, and even if studies continue to show the drops help glaucoma patients, it could still be at least six years before they are available commercially.
David Wright, chief executive officer of the International Glaucoma Association, cautions that the findings are just “the first step.” But if the early results are confirmed, he says, the use of this molecule in eye drops “will become the treatment of choice almost certainly, and it would revolutionize the treatment of glaucoma.”