The Brain's Role in Glaucoma Treatment

Glaucoma can be a tricky disease to understand, even for doctors and researchers. Glaucoma actually refers to a family of diseases that damage the optic nerve, the structure that sends visual images to the brain. There are many types of glaucoma, and they can stem from various causes. Not surprisingly, different types of glaucoma require unique treatment methods.

Some eye conditions are reversible, such as cataracts. However, in glaucoma patients, vision loss is irreversible. Patients must work closely with their ophthalmologists until they find the treatment option that works best. There is no cure for glaucoma-related vision loss, so the goal in treatment is to prevent further damage to the optic nerve. Unfortunately, when the optic nerve is damaged, it cannot be restored. Scientists in the field of regenerative medicine are seeking ways to help damaged nerves grow again or even introduce new nerve fibers. This could mean that someday we might be able to rebuild the connection between the brain and the optic nerve, something that until now has seemed impossible.

Other glaucoma research is focusing on increasing brain activity to boost the optic nerve’s ability to resist stress. A team of researchers called Catalyst for a Cure made an important discovery that they are calling a “window of structural persistence.” This means that there is an unspecified amount of time in which the optic nerve still communicates with the brain even when glaucoma impairs visual function. Researchers observed optic nerve fibers using self-repair mechanisms to increase their electrical activity so they could still communicate with the brain. Understanding this process more fully could be an integral component to delaying glaucoma-related vision loss (Source: Glaucoma Research Foundation).