Ann Conkle
Mar 7, 2012

New research characterizes glaucoma as neurologic disorder rather than eye disease

A new paradigm to explain glaucoma is rapidly emerging, and it is generating brain-based treatment advances that may ultimately vanquish the disease. A new review reports that some top researchers no longer think of glaucoma solely as an eye disease; they view it as a neurologic disorder that causes nerve cells in the brain to degenerate, similar to what occurs in Parkinson’s or Alzheimer's. The new paradigm focuses damage that occurs in a type of nerve cell called retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), rather than intraocular pressure, the traditional focus of glaucoma treatment. RGCs connect the eye to the brain through the optic nerve. RGC-targeted treatments now in clinical trials include: medications injected into the eye that deliver survival and growth factors to RGCs; medications known to be useful for stroke and Alzheimer's, such as cytidine-5-diphosphocholine; and electrical stimulation of RGCs delivered via tiny electrodes. Human trials of stem cell therapies are being planned.