Doctors hope new approach will attack glaucoma

August 15, 2012 1:17:20 PM PDT
In searching for a cure for glaucoma, doctors hope a new approach will reverse vision loss.

Glaucoma can rob you of your sight before you even know there is a problem. In its most common form, glaucoma has virtually no symptoms, and there is no cure. However, a new trial is helping patients attack the condition nonstop.

Now in his seventies, Kenneth Smith just renovated the bathroom. He is currently working on another renovation - all while learning the banjo.

However glaucoma threatens to put an end to Smith's active lifestyle. Smith has enrolled in a unique trial at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.

"It turns out glaucoma is a neurodegenerative disease," said Jeffrey Goldberg, MD.

Dr. Goldberg says vision cells degenerate during glaucoma just like brain cells do in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. While standard glaucoma therapies focus on the front of the eye and eye pressure, he is looking at the back of the eye, and its connections to the brain. He believes a molecule called CNTF could be key to a breakthrough.

To stop the progression of glaucoma and maybe even restore vision, Goldberg is testing a device to boost CNTF in patients. It saves doctors from having to inject the CNTF into the patient's eyes over and over and over again. The implant is put in the white of the eye, and contains engineered cells.

It has been months since Smith got his implant, and things are looking good.

"Yes, I'm seeing better. It's still not 100% like I would like it to be. Looking forward to it getting better and better," said Smith.

Smith is also continuing to do what he loves to do ? just about everything.

Dr. Goldberg says so far patients in the trial haven't seen any major side effects from the implant. He says the procedure takes about 15 minutes, and the implant starts working right away. He believes it could deliver the possible vision saving molecule directly to the eye for a year or more.

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