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World Glaucoma Week Recognizes Importance of Awareness for this Blinding Eye Disease

March 8-14 is World Glaucoma Week 2020, with events being held around the globe. As one of those events, Research!America and AEVR are pleased to join in releasing the latest edition of the Vision and Blindness fact sheet, which provides useful information about eye disease and vision impairment, including the latest research into glaucoma.

Americans fear vision loss more than most other medical conditions, as reported in a 2014 Research!America poll conducted for AEVR. Since glaucoma is the second leading cause of preventable vision loss in the United States, sustained education about the disease is vital as individuals often are unaware they have it until vision is lost. A neurological disease affecting the optic nerve, it causes loss of vision and ultimately blindness and affects more than 2.7 million Americans over age 40 − with that number estimated to more than double by year 2050. In its 2014 report on the prevalence and cost of vision disorders, Prevent Blindness estimated that glaucoma is a driving factor−along with cataract and diabetic retinopathy − in the annual cost of vision impairment reaching $373.2 billion by year 2050, or $717 billion when adjusted for inflation.

In its most common form − primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) − nerve damage can result from high intraocular pressure (IOP), which occurs when the fluid that circulates in and out of the front part of the eye drains too slowly. Research funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has resulted in pressure-reducing drug regimens, and NEI’s Ocular Hypertension Treatment Study (OHTS) found that pressure-reducing eye drops delayed disease onset. In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved two new drug therapies that add to those that have already emerged from NEI research. Targeting the eye’s trabecular meshwork − which is one of the pathways responsible for regulating fluid flow within the eye—the new generation of therapies reflects an expanding menu of drugs, potentially in combination therapy, that lower IOP and better meet the needs of patients.

The NEI’s Glaucoma Human Genetics Collaboration Heritable Overall Operational Database (NEIGHBORHOOD) Consortium − which includes the most thoroughly characterized population of people with known glaucoma status − has identified 133 genetic variants that predict within 75% accuracy a person’s risk for developing glaucoma related to IOP.  Among the 133 variants identified, 68 had not been previously linked to IOP, and their loci point to cellular processes, such as lipid metabolism and mitochondrial function, that contribute to elevated pressure. Characterizing the genes, attendant biological pathways, and the potential impact of environmental exposures enables further research that could lead to the development of new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches for the disease.