Northwestern researchers’ glaucoma breakthrough prompts new treatment development

Christine Farolan, Copy Chief

Scientists at Northwestern’s medical school have uncovered a new cause of the eye disease glaucoma, spurring their research on a new eye drop to more sustainably treat the condition, the University announced Wednesday.

Glaucoma is one of the top causes of blindness that affects roughly 60 million people worldwide. It occurs when the nourishing fluid that flows in and out of a chamber at the front of the eye does not drain quickly enough. The buildup creates pressure, which damages the optic nerve and causes a patient to slowly lose peripheral vision.

The Feinberg School of Medicine study, published Sept. 9 in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, has identified the specific molecules that comprise the drainage canals.

Dr. Susan Quaggin, senior author of the study and the director of the Feinberg Cardiovascular Research Institute, said the discovery led the team to work on an eye drop that will stimulate growth of new or existing canals through which the fluid can drain.

“We’re trying to turn on the growth factor pathway. It’s like switching a light on,” Quaggin said. “It would mean growing more cells either from existing tissue or actually developing brand new ones.”

Most glaucoma patients take daily pills or eye drops or undergo surgery to relieve pressure from their eyes. The new treatment, however, would ideally create more lasting relief by prompting new tissue growth that widens existing canals or create new ones.

“There’s precedent that you can grow new (tissues) or make them bigger, so we’re hoping this very specific vessel in the eye will be able to do that,” Quaggin said.

Researchers will likely begin testing the treatment on mice in six months, Quaggin said.

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