A group of American researchers is testing whether or not the pain medication pentazocine can halt the progression of glaucoma. The main scientist behind this research is none other than Dr. Kathryn Bollinger, a prominent ophthalmologist in the Medical College of Georgia.
Bollinger told reporters she is interested in how pentazocine could activate proteins known as sigma-1 receptors (S1Rs) in the eyes. These proteins are extremely important in protecting the retinal ganglion cells, the very cells that are destroyed at a faster rate in glaucoma patients' eyes.
Once doctors better understand how pentazocine changes the molecular structure of the eyes, they should be able to figure out whether or not the drug could be used in glaucoma treatments. To test out this theory, Dr. Bollinger and her colleagues are currently devising an animal trial. The hope is that pentazocine will activate enough S1Rs to protect the glaucoma patient's optic nerve.
The main focus of Dr. Bollinger's research to date has been on brain cells known as astrocytes. Astrocytes play a key role both in protecting and strengthening retinal ganglion cells. Dr. Bollinger is curious whether or not pentazocine will increase the astrocyte presence in the eyes of a glaucoma patient's eyes.
Some people in the medical community now believe that astrocytes actually become toxic in patients with glaucoma. This current understanding of glaucoma states that astrocytes become aggressive towards a glaucoma patient's visual neurons due to the increase in intraocular pressure (IOP).
Most eye doctors nowadays just prescribe pressure reducing eye drops for glaucoma patients. Although these drops work for some, Dr. Bollinger believes they aren't good enough for all glaucoma patients. She told reporters that lowering IOP "does not effectively treat disease in all cases and many patients continue to experience visual field loss."
If Dr. Bollinger's test proves successful, it could open up new possibilities in the treatment of glaucoma. Ophthalmologists would no longer be dependent on treating glaucoma patients just with IOP reducing drugs like Latanoprost.
Pentazocine is an opioid that's only prescribed for the treatment of severe pain. Doctors generally give a patient pentazocine after or before a surgical procedure. This drug is incredibly addictive and can be lethal if taken in high dosages.
The American Glaucoma Society is funding the bulk Dr. Bollinger's scientific work. No date has been set for the animal trial as of today.
No matter what form of glaucoma a patient has, it will always affect that person's optic nerve. If an eye doctor doesn't catch the warning signs for glaucoma early enough, it could lead to permanent visual impairment or total blindness. Most glaucoma patients experience no visual symptoms until the disease has advanced to very late stages. These late visual symptoms include hazy vision, sensitivity to light, and a loss of central vision.
Eye doctors recommend getting an eye exam every year to check for "silent" diseases like glaucoma. Although ophthalmologists can't cure glaucoma, they can halt its progress by prescribing IOP reducing drops and performing laser eye surgeries.