How do better batteries protect against glaucoma?

Research details

  • Type of funding: Fight for Sight Small Grant Award
  • Grant Holder: Professor David Garway-Heath
  • Institute: UCL Institute of Ophthalmology
  • Region: London
  • Start date: December 2012
  • End Date: May 2013
  • Priority:
  • Eye Category:


Glaucoma is a group of long-term conditions in which the optic nerve becomes damaged over time. The optic nerve is a bundle of connecting ‘cables’ from the light-sensitive layer of the eye (the retina). It carries visual signals from eye to brain.

The main risks of glaucoma come from high pressure in the eye, older age and ethnic origin. Although high eye pressure is the only known risk factor we can change, the condition affects people very differently. There is no clear link between how fast sight will get worse and whether eye pressure is high, low or in-between.

Recent research in the lab and the clinic suggest that problems with producing energy and clearing toxins could be important. Cells make the energy they need in internal ‘battery’ compartments called mitochondria. Cells also need to be able to clear out ‘reactive oxygen species’. These are by-products from normal activity by cells, but if they build up they can be damaging.

Age changes how these two processes work. Early results from the research team show that people with high eye pressure who are resistant to optic nerve damage have better working mitochondria in certain blood cells than either people with worsening glaucoma and normal eye pressure or healthy people of similar age.

This looks as though better energy production can prevent glaucoma from progressing. So in this project the team is investigating to find out more about the genes that control mitochondria.

This likely indicates that enhanced mitochondrial function confers resistance to glaucoma progression. This study aims to further explore mechanisms linked to mitochondrial efficiency in OHT by measuring the transcript levels of genes that influence mitochondrial function and structure. The aim is to find an approach to treatment that could prevent sight loss from glaucoma.