Investigating life-long metabolic changes in glaucoma
Researchers are working to identify metabolic changes involved in glaucoma to further understanding of the condition, thanks to Fight for Sight funding.
Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible sight loss worldwide, and while previous research has taught us a lot about the risk factors involved, there are still vital gaps in knowledge around how these lead to eye damage.
Led by Dr Pirro Hysi of King’s College London, the study - one of four recently awarded PhD studentships - aims to help fill these gaps by identifying metabolites associated with glaucoma.
These are small molecules found in blood and eye tissue which are involved in biological and metabolic processes. Discovering more about them could potentially lead to targeted new treatments. The research will also be useful in terms of bioinformatics, with analysis of UK Biobank data at its core, providing well-rounded training for the PhD student.
New treatment potential
“Glaucoma is caused by a combination of increasing age, genetic susceptibility and external factors,” says Dr Hysi.
“Studies have identified hundreds of small genetic changes related to an increased risk of glaucoma, enabling us to better understand some mechanisms involved. However, genetic factors cannot be changed, and new treatments are only able to indirectly target the pathways causing damage.
“But we know the associated risk factors often result in changes in metabolites. So, by identifying relevant metabolites, not only would we increase understanding of glaucoma, this knowledge could pave the way for new treatments.”
Around 80 million people worldwide have glaucoma, a figure that’s expected to rise to 120 million by 2040. The condition is associated with elevated pressure inside the eye, leading to optic nerve damage.
Glaucoma can be managed if diagnosed early. But once optic nerve damage has happened, it cannot be reversed, which is why understanding the early processes involved is a key focus for Fight for Sight research.