How do optic nerve cell ‘batteries’ affect the risk of glaucoma?

Research details

  • Type of funding: PhD Studentship
  • Grant Holder: Professor David Garway-Heath
  • Institute: Moorfields Eye Hospital
  • Region: London
  • Start date: September 2014
  • End Date: June 2018
  • Priority: Causes
  • Eye Category: Glaucoma


Glaucoma is a major cause of blindness worldwide, affecting 67 million people. People with glaucoma gradually lose their sight because the nerve cells that carry visual signals from the eye to the brain via the optic nerve become damaged and can’t be repaired.

One cause of optic nerve damage is having high pressure in the eye (intraocular pressure). But some people with glaucoma have normal intraocular pressure. Plus, some people with high eye pressure don’t seem to be at more risk of glaucoma. This might be because their optic nerve cells can resist high pressure or perhaps may be more efficient at producing the energy they need to work, protecting them from glaucoma.

Mitochondria are the ‘batteries’ of cells – they produce the energy the cells need to survive. In this project the team will:

  • Try to find out more about how the mitochondria work in people with high eye pressure but no glaucoma.
  • Investigate how well the mitochondria work in people who don’t have high eye pressure but who do have glaucoma that’s progressing quickly.

Currently, the only treatment for glaucoma is to try to reduce high pressure in the eye. If the researchers can find out whether better energy production by the optic nerve cells protects against glaucoma, it might lead to a new type of treatment that makes energy production more efficient. In turn, this would reduce the number of people who become blind due to glaucoma.