Scientists in Italy have discovered a simple eye drop that may reverse glaucoma, the disease caused when pressure builds in the eye, injuring nerve cells and ultimately leading to blindness. Ophthalmologist Stefano Bonini at the University of Rome Campus Bio-Medico and his collaborators applied drops containing nerve growth factor (a protein involved in neural development) to the eyes of rats with induced glaucoma. The drops protected the animals’ retinal ganglion cells and optic nerves, both of which are generally damaged by the disease. The team’s report appeared in the August 11 issue of PNAS.
In the study Bonini also had success applying nerve growth factor to humans with advanced glaucoma. Two of three patients given the eye drops exhibited a remarkable improvement in visual acuity and sensitivity to contrast after three months. “I cannot say that we have found a cure for glaucoma,” Bonini says carefully, “but we have something that worked in a few patients. It will be interesting to test more.”