Can researchers develop a personalised treatment for glaucoma?

Professor Willoughby from Ulster University:

“The network of ophthalmologists and support from Fight for Sight will be a significant resource to study the genetics of the steroid response and develop genetic tests to personalise treatment and target patients at risk of complication. Understanding the genetic basis of steroid-induced eye pressure will provide knowledge about the development of glaucoma and potentially new therapeutic targets."

Professor Collin Willoughby from Ulster University
Professor Collin Willoughby from Ulster University

What is the aim of this project?
Fight for Sight announced funding in October 2018 for researchers from Ulster University who aim to develop personalised medicine for patients at risk of glaucoma from using steroids.

By gaining a better understanding of the genetic basis for steroid-induced eye pressure, researchers hope to develop a genetic test that will predict how a patient will respond to steroids.

Why is this research needed?
Steroids are one of the most common and widely used treatments for many eye conditions including inflammation from diabetes and vascular conditions. Steroid eye drops can also be used after surgery to reduced inflammation.

Unfortunately, steroids can cause an increase in eye pressure, a common cause of glaucoma. This steroid response is determined by individual genetic factors which we currently cannot predict. This means its unknown which individuals will be at risk.

Understanding the genetic risk factors will help provide targeted clinical care by delivering personalised medicine.

What method will researchers use? 
The study involves a network of ophthalmologists from all across the UK and Ireland contributing clinical data and DNA samples. Approximately 800 patients will have their blood samples analysed for over 300,000 genetic variants. The key genetic variants will be confirmed by sophisticated computer analysis. 

What will be the benefit for patients? 
The knowledge from the research will allow researchers to gain a better understanding about the genetic causes of steroid-induced glaucoma.

In the future, when a patient receives a steroid implant, the risk of developing raised pressure and glaucoma, will be predicted glaucoma based on analysing a panel of genetic markers. Treatment will be tailored to the individual patient, by the clinician providing personalised medicine.

Personalised treatments will be important for many patients including Tom Beare who was 70 years old when he was diagnosed with steroid induced glaucoma. He said: “For many years I had high intra ocular pressure in my eyes. However, the glaucoma only appeared after I was on high doses of steroids. Luckily for me it was detected in the early stages, but that is not always the case for everyone. Research like this is vital as it would be extremely helpful to have tailored treatments which would lead to better outcomes for patients.”

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