With an estimated 300,000 Australians living with glaucoma, the condition is one of the leading causes of blindness and low vision in Australia.
Treatments such eye drops, laser and surgery have proved to be effective in halting the progression of glaucoma however, a significant proportion of people that live with glaucoma will still experience significant vision loss.
Professor Keith Martin, managing director of the Centre for Eye Research Australia, (CERA) and head of ophthalmology at Melbourne University is leading a team responsible for research into gene therapy for glaucoma.
“In the UK and Europe gene-therapy treatments are widely used for rare and inherited eye-diseases. We have not looked into it for something as common as glaucoma,” Professor Martin said.
Glaucoma affects the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. Damage to the optic nerve causes a deterioration of peripheral vision over time.
Professor Martin said understanding the basis of the disease might be the key to both halting and, potentially, restoring vision.
“We used to define the disease by eye pressure but we know now there is much more to the condition than that,” he said.
“If you have a nerve that is particularly fragile then you might get damage even with low pressure.”
Restoring vision may be a long way off, but early research is positive.
“Scientific process goes in infrequent big breakthroughs with radical changes in a short amount of time,” he said.
“Glaucoma is a fascinating condition. I’ve had people ask me if they will be able to see again. This is very motivating for the team to get on and do the research.”
You can listen to the full interview with Professor Martin on Vision Australia’s CERA Podcast here.
Professor Martin will also speak at a free community event in Melbourne March 11 as part of National Glaucoma week. Visit the CERA website for details.