Discovery could lead to better treatments for glaucoma

May 29, 2014

For decades scientists have tried to understand how glaucoma develops in the eye. 

Now a team of UNT Health Science Center researchers have identified a signaling pathway that appears to play a major part in the development of the incurable eye disease that affects more than 67 million people worldwide and that can lead to irreversible blindness.

Despite advances in the treatment, current medications only treat elevated pressure, which is a risk factor for glaucoma but not the underlying cause of the  nerve damage that leads to vision loss, said Abe Clark, PhD, Professor of Cell Biology and Immunology and Director of the North Texas Eye Research Institute.

"Therapy eventually fails because it does not address the underlying cause of the disease," he said. "We’re convinced this pathway is a major player in glaucoma and could lead to ways to inhibit or reverse the disease process so the individual ends up with a much healthier eye."

For the study, published in the April issue of the Journal of Ocular Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Dr. Clark described the role this complicated signaling pathway plays in open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of the disease. Results showed that several signaling pathways are involved in glaucoma damage to the front of the eye, leading to increased intraocular pressure.

 "Finding which pathway is involved has taken dozens of people and more than a decade of work," Dr. Clark said. "But hopefully this could mean that one day those with glaucoma do not lose their functional vision over a lifetime."

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