New eye drop may help glaucoma sufferers

August 3, 2009 12:41:23 PM PDT
A new type of eye drop may point the way to treatment for glaucoma, though it's only been tested in three people so far.

One of the leading causes of blindness, glaucoma occurs when the optic nerve is damaged, often by high pressure within the eye. Treatment can delay progress of the disease but can't reverse damage already done.

Now a team of Italian researchers reports that vision improved in three patients they treated.

The tests in people were tried after success in treating rats with the eye drops containing a protein known as nerve growth factor, the researchers said. The team, led by Alessandro Lambiase of the department of ophthalmology, University of Rome, reported its findings in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Nerve growth factor assists portions of the central nervous system that have been damaged by disease or injury.

In tests it prevented nerve degeneration in rats with glaucoma, leading the researchers to launch the human tests.

The patients, two men and a woman in their 60s and 70s, had advanced glaucoma, some for 20 years or more.

After three months of treatment all patients showed improvements in visual sharpness and ability to detect contrast, the researchers said. Two of the three showed improved visual fields, while the visual field stabilized for the third.

And, the researchers said, the improvements remain even three months after the treatments were finished.

Dr. David J. Calkins, director of research at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute, welcomed the finding with "guarded optimism."

Calkins, who was not part of the research team, said the work "deserves a good, hard look," because patients with disease as advanced as the patients in this study had been thought to be beyond repair.

However, the success must be repeated in further experiments, he stressed.

The research was funded by the Italian Ministry of Health and the Italian Ministry of University and Scientific Research.

More HealthCheck related links: