Australian eye doctors at Macquarie University have just made a groundbreaking discovery on the nature of glaucoma. Through various tests on both humans and rats, researchers have shown that the eye protein neuroserpin plays a critical role in preventing damage to the retina.
Scientists have known for years that neuroserpin is important in keeping the enzyme plasmin out of the eyes. If plasmin gets inside the eyes, it can cause serious damage to the retina and result in glaucoma.
The researchers at Macquarie University wanted to see whether or not low neuroserpin levels had anything to do with a heightened glaucoma risk. To test out this theory, scientists took retinal cells from humans both with and without glaucoma. They also analyzed retinal cells from rat models that were injected with the eye disease.
Eye doctors involved in this study found that neuroserpin was totally inactive in people and rats with glaucoma. Without the protective barrier of neuroserpin, plasmin easily worked its way into the retina.
Vivek Gupta, a professor in Macquarie University's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, was the lead author on this study. Dr. Gupta said that over a period of years, "increased enzyme activity gradually digests the eye tissue and promotes cell death."
Researchers also discovered neuroserpin gets deactivated in everyone's eyes due to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress basically refers to the body's inability to protect itself from harmful reactive oxygen species (ROS) that are in environmental stressors like car pollution.
The discoveries on oxidative stress and glaucoma have led a few scientists to consider whether antioxidants might be the key to a glaucoma treatment. Antioxidants are well-known for their ability to help the body protect itself from ROS. Doctors at Macquarie University will look more into this topic in the future. In case you were wondering, A few foods rich in antioxidants include blueberries, goji berries, and kale.
60 million people around the world suffer from glaucoma. That makes glaucoma one of the leading causes of blindness.
Unfortunately, about half of the people who have glaucoma don't know they have it till it's too late to reverse the symptoms. The only way to tell whether or not you have glaucoma is to go for a yearly eye exam. Most of the visual symptoms of glaucoma only appear when the disease has advanced to a critical stage.
Although glaucoma most often affects people over the age of 40, people can contract glaucoma at any age. Indeed, one strain of this disease called pigmentary glaucoma most often affects young nearsighted men.
While there's no cure for glaucoma at the moment, doctors can halt the disease's progress with eye drops and laser surgery. There's hope this new research into neuroserpin may help eye doctors in the future come up with a cure for this horrible eye disease.
Anyone can read this full study in the August 2017 edition of Scientific Reports. The title of this research is "Glaucoma is associated with plasmin proteolytic activation mediated through oxidative inactivation of neuroserpin."