It’s a procedure that focuses on the brain instead of just the eye.
It can rob you of your sight before you even know there's a problem.
In its most common form glaucoma has virtually no symptoms and there's no cure, but a new trial is helping patients attack the condition non-stop.
Just a warning, this report does contain graphic surgery video.
Kenneth Smith said he built his home back in 1971 and now in his 70s, just renovated a bathroom and is working on another.
"It’s quite a bit of work to do in here,” he said.
All this while learning the banjo, but one thing threatens to put an end to Kenneth’s active lifestyle.
Now, he's enrolled in a unique trial at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.
"It turns out glaucoma is a neurodegenerative disease."
Dr. Jeffrey Goldberg said vision cells degenerate during glaucoma just like brain cells do in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
While standard glaucoma therapies focus on the front of the eye and eye pressure, he's looking at the back of the eye and its connections to the brain. He believes a molecule called CNTF could be key to a breakthrough.
"It's expressed all through the eye and the brain,” said Dr. Goldberg.
To stop the progression of glaucoma and maybe even restore vision, he's testing this device to boost CNTF in patients.
"It saves us from having to inject the CNTF into the patient's eyes over and over and over again."
The implant is put in the white of the eye and contains engineered cells.
"And they make the CNTF constantly and pump it into the eye,” Goldberg added.
It's been months since Smith got his implant and things are looking good.
"Yes, I'm seeing better. It's still not 100% like I would like it to be but I’m looking forward to it getting better and better."
Smith is also looking forward to continuing to do what he loves just about everything. >
Dr. Goldberg said so far patients in the trial haven't seen any major side effects from the implant.
He said the procedure takes about 15 minutes and the implant starts working right away.
He believes it could deliver the possible vision saving molecule directly to the eye for a year or more.
BACKGROUND: Glaucoma is a complicated disease where damage to the optic nerve leads to progressive, irreversible vision loss. It is the second most common cause of blindness in the United States. Everyone is at risk for glaucoma, there may be no symptoms to warn you, and there is no cure for the disease. It is estimated that over 2.2 million Americans have glaucoma but only half of those know they have it. (Source: Glaucoma Research Foundation)
TYPES: There are four major types of glaucoma:
* Open-angle (chronic) glaucoma -An increase in eye pressure occurs slowly over time. The pressure pushes on the optic nerve. Unknown cause, tends to run in families
* Angle-closure (acute) glaucoma- occurs when the exit of the aqueous humor fluid is suddenly blocked. This causes a quick, severe, and painful rise in the pressure in the eye. This is an emergency, and if you have had acute glaucoma in one eye, you are at risk for an attack in the second eye.
* Congenital glaucoma- seen in babies and present at birth due to abnormal eye development.
* Secondary glaucoma- caused by drugs like corticosteroids, eye diseases, systemic diseases, or trauma. (Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
TREATMENT: A dilated eye exam is the best and most effective way to detect glaucoma. Treatment can't cure glaucoma, but it can prevent and avoid further vision loss. Different treatments for glaucoma include medicated eye drops, oral medications (usually a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor), Drugs that protect the optic nerve, and surgery to lower eye pressure. Advocates of medicinal marijuana cite evidence that hemp products can lower intraocular pressure (IOP) in people with glaucoma. However, these products are less effective than medicines prescribed by an eye doctor. Additionally, side effects of long term use of marijuana can override any potential benefits. (Source: Mayo Clinic, Glaucoma Research Foundation)
NEW TECHNOLOGY: Neurotech's product, NT-501, contains encapsulated human cells genetically modified to secrete ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF). CNTF is a growth factor that is able to rescuing dying photoreceptors and protect them from degeneration. NT-501 is designed to continually deliver a low, safe and therapeutic dose of CNTF into the back of the eye, and is designed for the potential treatment of retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). (Source: Neurotech)
FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Jeffrey Goldberg, MD
Bascom Palmer Eye Institute