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Stress out

UK researchers hope to combat glaucoma by enhancing the body’s stress protection strategies

Double helix

A one-off injection could soon complement intraocular pressure (IOP) management therapies for glaucoma patients.

Cambridge-based spin-out company Quethera is developing a gene therapy to enhance the natural neural protection systems of the eye, company co-founder, Dr Peter Widdowson, told OT.

Dr Widdowson said there is evidence from animal research – and some support from human studies – that these stress protective systems do not work properly in eyes with glaucoma.

“We’re looking to boost that pathway,” he explained.

When completed, the gene therapy will insert DNA instructions for ‘neuroprotective’ proteins into the cells of a glaucoma patient’s eye. The effects from the one-off injection are hoped to last for “a decade plus,” Dr Widdowson emphasised.

Current work was looking at how the targeted gene could be activated by the treatment for longer, he said, adding: “We’re still a few years away from the clinic.”

Dr Widdowson hoped Quethera’s first trial for patients with mild to moderate glaucoma could be possible by mid-2018, to compare the effects of the gene therapy using a control group.

A therapy to complement the eye drops or surgical methods that manage IOP in glaucoma patients was highly desirable, Dr Widdowson highlighted.

“In around 10–13% of glaucoma patients with excellent IOP management … their visual fields continue to deteriorate and it is these patients we aim to target before they go completely blind,” he explained.

“The major aim of this project is to really take something through that will work and make a difference to the patient’s lives,” Dr Widdowson added.

Image credit: Mehmet Pinarci