Glaucoma patients could have “irreversible” eye damage reversed after a breakthrough in optical nerve treatment.
The study in mice, conducted by the National Institute of Health, uses high contrast visual stimulation to help damaged neurons regrow optic nerve fibres.
Optic nerve fibres, otherwise known as retinal ganglion cell axons, are damaged in patients with glaucoma and do not naturally regrow causing most glaucoma blindness to be permanent.
But the results of this latest study show that combined visual and chemical therapy can partially restore sight in adult rodents.
NEI Director Paul Sieving said: “This research shows that mammals have a greater capacity for central nervous system regeneration than previously known.”
Funded by the National Eye Institute, the experiments use blind mice and expose them to high-contrast images (an ever-changing pattern of black lines) for several hours a day.
Those who underwent this treatment showed “modest but significant” axonal regrowth in a short period of time compared to those who hadn’t been exposed to the images.
The results showed that not only do the optic nerve axons regrow, but new axons are also capable of targeting the correct locations in the brain.
According to the NHS, glaucoma develops when aqueous humour fluid in the eye cannot drain properly and pressure builds, which damages the optic nerve.
It’s estimated that more than 500,000 people have glaucoma in England and Wales, yet many more people may be living with the condition.