Glaucoma, the top cause of irreversible blindness, affects more than 64 million people worldwide—and for these people, there’s a promising new treatment on the horizon, delivered with just a single shot to your eye.
A new study published in the journal Molecular Therapy found that a single injection may successfully treat glaucoma using gene therapy technology. This treatment could be a gamechanger for people with this eye condition, for which the current treatments—including eye drops and laser surgery—come with limitations and side effects.
The researchers who led the study at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom tested this gene therapy approach on human donor tissue, demonstrating its potential benefits.
Glaucoma typically occurs when fluid buildup in the front part of your eye leads to increased pressure and nerve damage, which can harm your ability to see. The new gene therapy treatment targets the part of the eye responsible for production of that fluid, according to a news release on the study. By genetically disrupting the process of fluid buildup in the first place, it then could lead to a long-term reduction in the pressure on the eye that leads to glaucoma.
"Currently there is no cure for glaucoma, which can lead to loss of vision if the disease is not diagnosed and treated early,” explained Colin Chu, M.D., one of the study’s authors and visiting senior research fellow at Bristol Medical School, in a news release.
The next step, says Dr. Chu? Clinical trials for this new treatment. “If it's successful it could allow a long-term treatment of glaucoma with a single eye injection, which would improve the quality of life for many patients whilst saving […] time and money.”
The Signs of Glaucoma
Unfortunately, symptoms of glaucoma show up gradually, which means you may not notice them at first, according to the National Eye Institute. In fact, half of the people with glaucoma don’t even know they have it—you may not find out until you have an eye exam with dilation at your regular eye doctor checkup.
When symptoms do appear, the National Eye Institute says, it’s usually things like a gradual loss of vision, typically starting with your side vision (aka peripheral vision)—that also includes the vision closest to your nose.
It helps to know any risk factors you may have for glaucoma so you can be extra aware of any vision changes you may experience. According to the National Eye Institute, you’re at increased risk of developing glaucoma if you:
- Are over age 60
- Are African American or Hispanic/Latino and over age 40
- Have a history of glaucoma in your family
Remember: If not treated, glaucoma can lead to blindness— and you can’t really “feel” if you have glaucoma, especially at earlier stages. That’s why it’s super important that you’re getting your eyes checked regularly and know the symptoms and risk factors. Talk with your ophthalmologist or optometrist about how often you should be making appointments for checkups.