Grant funds study into gene-glaucoma links

BY AMY MATTSON | JULY 07, 2009 7:20 AM

If this looks blurry, blame your genes.

Thanks to a $3.6 million grant, UI researchers are delving into the genome to seek answers for glaucoma patients.

Awarded by the National Institutes of Health, the five-year grant will support research to discover the specific genes that put patients at risk for glaucoma.

Glaucoma is the second-leading cause of irreversible blindness in the United States. A group of diseases that damage the optic nerve, it can rob a patient of sight without warning or symptoms.

However, glaucoma is often treatable by slowing or stopping its progression, said UI Assistant Professor John Fingert, the principal project investigator.

“The challenge is identifying those who have the disease,” he said.

Fingert’s research builds upon the NIH-sponsored Ocular Hypertension Treatment Study. Research into glaucoma seeks to find genetic markers co-inherited with features of the disease and represents the first step toward identifying glaucoma genes.

Fingert is hopeful his study will change the way patients are diagnosed and treated. Knowing the genes that cause the disease will help develop new treatments down the road, he said. The researcher also noted the results of his study might aid early glaucoma diagnosis, preventing serious vision loss.

“We’re thrilled at the opportunity to do this project,” Fingert said.

UI spokesman Tom Moore said he was confident about the endeavor.

“Our researchers in the department of ophthalmology and visual sciences have a strong track record of conducting groundbreaking research,” he said.

The study, which looks at more than 1,000 patients from across the country, is conducted in collaboration with investigators at Washington University. In addition to Fingert’s research, it sponsors several parallel experiments with animal models.

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