Second to cataracts, glaucoma is the leading cause of vision loss in the world today. Unlike cataracts, which can be treated with surgery, glaucoma has no cure. Increased pressure in the eye causes damage to the optic nerve, which results in gradual deterioration of the eyesight. The best that a glaucoma sufferer can hope for is an early diagnosis to prevent irreversible vision loss.
Glaucoma treatments have been limited to topical medications, shunts and other tiny implants that all have the same goal: to reduce eye pressure and prevent further damage to the optic nerve. Being able to restore lost vision has only been a distant hope—until now.
Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., associate professor of neurobiology at Stanford University, has found a way to condition injured optic nerve cells in blind mice and actually make the cells regenerate. Using genetic and visual stimulation, Dr. Huberman was able to trigger injured retinal cells in the mice to regrow optic nerve fibers along damaged pathways to the brain. The result was a partial restoration of eyesight in the mice.
If vision in animals can be restored, is it possible to reconnect damaged nerve cells in humans as well? Huberman hopes that this new therapy will open doors to new treatments for glaucoma and other degenerative eye diseases. Thomas M. Brunner, President and CEO of the Glaucoma Research Foundation, finds the results of the study quite encouraging. He commented, “The research shows that there may be promise for people, where we think vision is permanently gone, to restore it” (Source: Glaucoma.org).