Every year, new technology is developed to treat eye diseases that threaten our vision. A group of researchers at University College London and the Western Eye Hospital have made a recent breakthrough in glaucoma detection. Using equipment that is already routinely used in hospital eye examinations, the research team developed a way to visualize individual nerve cell death.
Glaucoma refers to a family of diseases that is characterized by optic nerve damage, the nerve that transmits visual images to the brain. Increased inner eye pressure creates stress on optic nerve cells, causing cell death and irreversible vision loss.
The researchers believe that their simple, inexpensive diagnostic tool could revolutionize how glaucoma is diagnosed. One of the most challenging aspects of glaucoma is that it often has no symptoms in the early stages. This means that patients can lose a significant portion of their vision before the disease is discovered. There is currently no cure for glaucoma, so scientists must focus on early detection to prevent vision loss.
The new technique uses fluorescent markers that attach to cell proteins when injected into patients. Eye doctors can identify diseased cells because they will appear as fluorescent white spots. The research team hopes that this same technology may be instrumental in early diagnosis of other degenerative neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis.
Professor Francesca Cordeiro at UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, research team leader, stated, “Detecting glaucoma early is vital as symptoms are not always obvious. Although detection has been improving, most patients have lost a third of vision by the time they are diagnosed. Now, for the first time, we have been able to show individual cell death and detect the earliest signs of glaucoma. While we cannot cure the disease, our test means treatment can start before symptoms begin” (Source: Science Daily).