Glaucoma is a notorious eye disease that could already be in a person's eyes without him/her knowing it. Once the visual symptoms of glaucoma first appear to patients, it's often too late to reverse the trend of this debilitating disease.
Thankfully, a few doctors in Great Britain are looking into new ways to diagnose this disease years in advance. One team of researchers at the University College London (UCL) believe they've devised a diagnostic method whereby doctors could tell if a person was prone to developing glaucoma 10 years in advance.
The test these researchers used is officially called DARC. DARC works so well because it looks specifically at the cell death rate in a patient's retina. UCL currently has a patent on this DARC technology.
Patients involved in UCL's study were first injected intravenously with a fluorescent marker that naturally attaches to retinal proteins. When doctors looked into a patient's eyes, it was very easy for them to make out the sick cells. All of the sick retinal cells appeared as bright fluorescent sparks.
While the results from this first DARC test are extremely promising, the researchers note that it will take awhile to perfect this diagnostic procedure. They are well aware that the intravenous method is not a viable procedure due to its cumbersome nature and high cost. That's why doctors are now working on eye drops that would be able to achieve the same results as an intravenous DARC test.
Professor Francesca Cordeiro, one of the head researchers on this study, said that most people are officially diagnosed with glaucoma after 40 percent of their retinal ganglion cells have been destroyed. Unfortunately, once retinal cells are gone there is no way for doctors to revive them.
There's currently no cure for glaucoma, but there are various methods doctors can use to halt the progression of the disease. The earlier ophthalmologists are able to catch glaucoma, the better chance a patient has of avoiding severe sight loss.
Cordeiro believes that successful DARC eye drops could help eye doctors detect glaucoma well in advance, thereby preventing retinal cell death in millions of patients. She also believes this technology will greatly help reduce the amount of time expended in clinical trials examining treatments for glaucoma.
Although this technology is extremely promising for the future of eye care, there's no telling when it will be used in routine eye exams. Until that day, doctors still recommend everyone get a routine eye exam at least once every two years.
While glaucoma can occur at any age, it most often develops later in life. As mentioned above, glaucoma usually doesn't present symptoms until it has progressed to a great degree. However, patients could experience symptoms like eye pain, central vision loss, and even nausea.
The results of this fascinating UCL study were published in the neurological journal Brain under the title "Real-time imaging of single neuronal cell apoptosis in patients with glaucoma." Major funding for this study came from the London-based charity Wellcome Trust.