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Glaucoma, Parkinson's disease follow similar paths

Researchers at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and four other institutions say they have discovered where the biological process of blinding begins for glaucoma, perhaps leading to new ways to treat the disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Glaucoma affects more than 60 million people, including children, and is the world’s second leading cause of blindness.

The biological pathway identified by the researchers is similar to Parkinson’s disease, the researchers said.

 “These findings are very exciting because they give us several novel targets for future interventions,” said Dr. Nicholas Marsh-Armstrong, senior study author and a research scientist at Kennedy Krieger, in a statement. “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.”

The findings were published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researcher said the findings were unexpected.

The blindness from glaucoma is caused by damage to the optic nerve, which sends signals from the eye to the brain. In the latest study, researchers have pinpointed the specific location that appears to play a role.

They say it’s in the optic nerve head, where the information cables headed to the brain first exit the eye. There is a unique class of cells there called astrocytes that appear to be a factor.

Further studies will look at the pathway where things start to go awry and how the disease progression may be slowed.

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