Professor Tan, a now-retired academic, is urging everyone to get involved in a genetic study that has found 44 new genetic links for glaucoma.
There is a strong link to glaucoma in Professor Tan’s family, with her grandmother losing her sight over the course of her life due to the condition, which was not managed correctly. A number of her uncles had glaucoma, and her younger brother lost most of his sight as well.
Knowing this, she frequently went for check-ups but found that despite having high eye pressure – a sign of glaucoma risk – her ophthalmologist in Brisbane did not follow it up. “It was only when I moved to the Gold Coast, and at that point, I changed my ophthalmologist, and immediately he said, “you’ve got optic nerve damage and you need to be put on drops immediately”, she said. “Knowing what I know now, I would have left sooner and got treatment, but I didn’t know.”
Fortunately, Professor Tan’s glaucoma was in the early stages, and she has had minimal degradation, but her experience highlights how little can still be done about the insidious disease. The disease is the leading cause of blindness, with an estimated 75 million people affected by it. It causes a slow, almost imperceptible degradation of eyesight, and is Change of scenery saves a grandmother’s sight from glaucoma cumulative.
It has no cure, and all treatments merely halt the progress of the disease, they cannot reverse it. An international research effort led by QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and Harvard Medical School has identified 44 more genes with direct links to glaucoma, adding to the 83 already identified. QIMR’s Professor Stuart MacGregor said the finding would initially allow researchers to more accurately predict a person’s personal risk of glaucoma.
“We’re trying to use knowledge of the genetic information to improve detection and treatment of glaucoma,” he said. “Having a parent with glaucoma is considered to increase your risk of developing the disease yourself by up to tenfold.
What these new genes do is let us get a more accurate risk prediction, so for an individual their genetic risk instead of being 10 times higher than the general population it could be 50 times higher, or it could be only two times higher.”
rofessor MacGregor said the next focus of the research was to use the genetic markers to point the way to potential treatments, which could actually reverse or prevent it. QIMR is running a genetic study for people with glaucoma, and has an open call out for volunteers to add their genetic samples to the collection. Professor Tan also hopes for potential treatments in the future, not for her, but for her daughter
Faith, who has been living with glaucoma for a decade since she was diagnosed in her late 20s. Fortunately, her condition was caught much earlier than her mothers’ and she has almost no degradation of sight. “I’d urge everyone to come forward and take part in the QIMR study, that’s why I did,” Professor Tan said. “Preventing [glaucoma] would be amazing, because I’ve got grandchildren, and if history is anything to go by, they have these markers too.”
The research has been published in Nature Communications, an open access journal that publishes high-quality research from all areas of the natural sciences. Professor Jamie Craig, clinical lead researcher and chair and academic head of the Department of Ophthalmology at Flinders University, said the study results offer hope for mass screening for glaucoma in the future.
“Early detection is paramount because existing treatments can’t restore vision that has been lost, and late detection of glaucoma is a major risk factor for blindness,” said Craig, who is also a consultant ophthalmologist. “Glaucoma can arise at any age but most of those affected are in their 50’s or older, so our ultimate aim is to be able to offer blood tests to people when they turn 50 so they can find out if they are at risk, and then hopefully act on it.
“In most cases, glaucoma can be treated easily using simple eye drops, but this test is likely to be helpful in identifying those who would benefit from more aggressive intervention such as surgery.” The study findings can be accessed on the Nature Genetics website. www.nature.com/ng/ By Stuart Layt – Kindly reprinted with permission from Fairfax Media and The Brisbane Times
QIMR Test spots risk of eye disease before vision is lost Researchers have developed a genetic test to catch the debilitating eye disease glaucoma before it starts to affect a person’s vision. Scientists from QIMR Berghofer and Flinders University have identified 107 genes that increase someone’s risk of developing glaucoma. They are now conducting studies to refine the test further. Lead researcher Associate Professor Stuart MacGregor from QIMR said, “the test would significantly improve outcomes for patients, as glaucoma is progressive and incurable, meaning early detection was the key to managing the condition”.