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Glick Eye Institute researchers Arupratan Das, PhD, Padmanabhan Pattabiraman, PhD, Weiming Mao, PhD and Tasneem Sharma, PhD—also members of the ocular neurobiology research interest group at Stark Neurosciences Research Institute— are exploring ways to prevent and treat the disease.

Glaucoma research program growing at IU School of Medicine

Nearly 3 million Americans have glaucoma—a leading cause of blindness and vision loss—but half don’t know it, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

That’s because the neurodegenerative disease has no early symptoms. It doesn’t cause eye discomfort, pain or even blurry vision. It often goes unnoticed until later in life. According to the National Eye Institute, the number of glaucoma cases is expected to rise to 6.3 million by 2050.

The most common form, open-angle glaucoma, causes fluid to build up in the eye, generating pressure that can damage the optic nerve and its retinal ganglion cells, which carry signals from the eye to the brain. The disease is currently irreversible and there are no treatments.

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, and the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Eye Institute at Indiana University School of Medicine is a leader in glaucoma research. Department of Ophthalmology investigators are exploring ways to prevent and treat the disease.

Glick researchers Arupratan Das, PhD, Padmanabhan Pattabiraman, PhD, Weiming Mao, PhD and Tasneem Sharma, PhD—also members of the ocular neurobiology research interest group at Stark Neurosciences Research Institute—answered questions about glaucoma research.

The ocular neurobiology group, led by Yoshikazu Imanishi, PhD, investigates degenerative diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, inherited retinal degenerations and age-related macular degeneration, as well as basic mechanisms of photoreceptor function and connections between the vision system and other neurological disorders.

Why is it important to investigate glaucoma?

The mainstay of glaucoma treatment is to lower intraocular pressure. Current therapeutics or surgical interventions aim to slow the progression of disease, but there continues to be irreversible vision loss due to the progressive death of the terminal neurons, called retinal ganglion cells. There is a critical need to find novel intraocular pressure lowering agents that can cause minimal side effects and neuroprotection agents that can prevent neuronal loss.

What types of glaucoma research is ongoing at IU School of Medicine?

Glaucoma research at IU School of Medicine includes understanding the pathogenesis of disease through in-vitro, ex-vivo and in-vivo model systems, which includes human and animal models; identifying therapeutics that are intraocular pressure modifiers and or neuroprotective in nature; and formulating stem cell based neuronal transplantation strategies.

What are the latest glaucoma research discoveries at IU School of Medicine?

Glaucoma research in the Glick Eye Institute has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, NASA and other private funders. There are currently six NIH grants supporting glaucoma research among Department of Ophthalmology scientists. Sharma recently received a $2 million grant to validate a neuroprotection strategy in the hopes of developing novel therapeutics and clinical trials for glaucoma. Mao received an NIH grant recently to study mechanisms of steroid-induced glaucoma.

Multiple recent discoveries by researchers include an identification of a glaucoma neuroprotection mechanism by pharmacologically improving mitochondrial health in human stem cell differentiated glaucomatous retinal ganglion cells, which was published in Communications Biology by the Das lab, as well as a study that mechanistically deciphered the attributes of a transcription factor and the master regulators of lipogenesis—SREBPs—in regulating the contractile properties of trabecular meshwork and intraocular pressure, which was published in FASEB Journal by the Pattabiraman lab.

What education or training opportunities are offered at IU School of Medicine to learn more about glaucoma research?

The Department of Ophthalmology offers the Biology of Visual System Course (OPHT-V783). This elective course includes lectures on therapies and understanding disease pathogenesis of glaucoma. The department hosts a works-in-progress meeting where students present their research specific to glaucoma; a journal club where papers specific to glaucoma are regularly shown; and a Basic and Translational Research Seminar Series where renowned ocular vision scientists from across the globe present. Faculty and trainees also regularly attend ocular conferences, present at national and international meetings and are invited to present their research—providing a well-rounded research and educational experience.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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Ben Middelkamp

Ben Middelkamp is a communications manager for the Department of Neurology, Department of Neurological Surgery and Stark Neurosciences Research Institute at Indiana University School of Medicine. Before joining the Office of Strategic Communications in December 2019, Ben spent nearly six years as a newspaper reporter in two Indiana cities. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Convergent Journalism from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2014. Ben enjoys translating his background in journalism to the communications and marketing needs of the school and its physicians and researchers.