Second leading cause of blindness

April 4: Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. Renowned international glaucoma researcher, Professor David Mackey AO initiated the Glaucoma Inheritance Study in Tasmania, creating one of the largest glaucoma biobanks in the world. His research has contributed to the discovery of more than a dozen genes associated with inherited eye disease.

Glaucoma is often missed in the early stages but found early, treatment to lower the eye pressure using drops, laser or surgery can prevent blindness. The main risk factors include family history, genetics and elevated eye pressure.

“Many people think seeing with glaucoma is like having a narrow field of vision with a black periphery, a bit like looking through a straw, but this isn’t true,” Professor Mackey says. “Our brain fills information missing from the periphery, so people with glaucoma don’t notice what they are not seeing, and this is why it’s so important to prevent. One in ten people with glaucoma have lost so much vision they can’t safely drive.”

Although we know that middle-aged and older adults with high eye pressure are more likely to develop glaucoma, there is surprisingly little information on eye pressure in young adults and children, he explains. There is currently a gap in our knowledge since, to date, no one has undertaken a large population study to explore what the normal pressure measurement in children should be, he says.

Professor Mackey and his co-investigator Dr Samantha Lee will use funding from a Glaucoma Australia ‘Quinlivan’ Research Grant to collect and analyse data from young participants in the Raine Study, whose parents have been followed by researchers for their entire lives.

Measuring eye pressure in children from the third generation Raine Study participants, will enable the researchers to determine the normal range for this age group. They will also examine young adults to see if eye pressure changes through early adult life and whether genetic risk influences pressure at a young age.

This never-before possible research into the genetic, lifestyle and intergenerational aspects glaucoma will improve clinicians’ ability to monitor children and young adults at high risk of developing glaucoma and allow more timely intervention with the aim of decreasing glaucoma blindness.

For more information, see these journal articles:

Seeing the impact of the Glaucoma Inheritance Study in Tasmania after 25 years. Clin Exp Opthalmol. 2019

Rationale and protocol for the 7- and 8-year longitudinal assessments of eye health in a cohort of young adults in the Raine Study. BMJ Open. 2020

Image credit: Heijl A, Patella VM & Bengtsson B (2020) Effective Perimetry (4th ed), Glaucoma Australia website

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