In a new study, researchers identified an unexpected biological pathway that appears to contribute to the development of glaucoma and its resulting vision loss.

Prior research has suggested that the optic nerve head, the point where the cables that carry information from the eye to the brain first exit the eye, plays a role in glaucoma.

In this study, researchers found abnormal forms certain proteins that are also known for their key role in cell loss in Parkinson’s disease. The findings suggest that a biological process similar to Parkinson’s disease unfolds in glaucoma at the optic nerve head.

Dr. Nicholas Marsh-Armstrong, senior study author and a research scientist at Kennedy Krieger Institute added:

These findings are very exciting because they give us several novel targets for future interventions. I believe these findings put us on the cusp of discovering a treatment for glaucoma that may also have relevance for a number of other neurodegenerative diseases.

Future studies will examine this novel pathway and molecular/cellular mechanism to understand precisely what steps go awry in glaucoma and what can be controlled pharmacologically to identify interventions that slow the disease progression.

Dr. Marsh-Armstrong and other scientists at Kennedy Krieger Institute collaborated on this study with colleagues at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, University of California at San Diego, Cardiff University in England, and the University of Murcia in Spain.

Glaucoma is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes blindness by damaging the optic nerve, which sends signals from the eye to the brain. It affects more than 60 million people and is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. While older individuals are at higher risk for the disease, babies and children are also susceptible to glaucoma, especially those with certain neurological disorders.

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