Researchers are examining whether the pain medication, pentazocine, can be used to protect the optic nerve from injury in glaucoma patients.
Medical College of Georgia ophthalmologist, Dr Kathryn Bollinger, is investigating the role that the brain cells, astrocytes, play in the development of glaucoma.
Dr Bollinger, who has received a grant from the American Glaucoma Society, explained to OT that astrocytes normally protected and nourished the retinal ganglion cells.
“The theory is that in glaucoma, through some complicated set of mechanisms that may be dependent on intraocular pressure, the astrocytes may change so that they become toxic to neurons,” she highlighted.
Her research focuses on exploring whether the protein, sigma-1 receptor (S1R), can be used to protect retinal ganglion cells.
Researchers will use animal models of glaucoma to determine whether the pain reliever, pentazocine, can protect the optic nerve from injury by activating S1R.
“Understanding the molecular mechanisms that underlie S1R activity is critical to establishing better treatments for eye diseases,” Dr Bollinger emphasised.
She outlined how current therapies focused on lowering intraocular pressure (IOP), which was a major risk factor for the development and progression of glaucoma.
“Lowering IOP does not effectively treat disease in all cases and many patients continue to experience visual field loss,” she explained.
Novel neuroprotective therapies, such as the one under development, were needed to stop optic nerve degeneration independent of lowering IOP, Dr Bollinger concluded.