A NEW eye test that could detect and prevent the onset of glaucoma, a disease that causes irreversible blindness, has been welcomed by the charity Christian Blind Mission (CBM).
The technique uses a fluorescent dye which attaches to cell protein when injected into patients, allowing doctors to see individual nerve-cell death in the back of the eye, and diagnose glaucoma before sight degenerates. It was developed by researchers at University College, London, and the Western Eye Hospital, and funded by the charity the Wellcome Trust.
The chief executive of CBM UK, Kirsty Smith, said: “We welcome advances like this that can help identify glaucoma before it’s too late. Although it’s early days, it’s particularly exciting that this test could eventually be delivered by opticians, bringing hope it could be developed for use in low-income countries.”
Glaucoma affects 60 million people worldwide, ten per cent of whom are blinded. The disease causes optic nerve damage, but is usually painless; there are no symptoms except a gradual deterioration of sight.
The new technique, while unable to cure blindness, means that patients could be diagnosed, and undergo treatment, as much as ten years earlier than is currently possible. Current treatments can slow down or stop the progression of the disease, making this early detection valuable, the Wellcome Trust says.
Sixteen individuals took part in the study, eight of whom had been formerly diagnosed with neurodegeneration. There were no side effects. The same test could be a “breakthrough”, the Wellcome Trust says, for the early diagnosis of other neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s.
The CBM is currently conducting trials at the Kilimanjaro Christian medical centre in Tanzania, to investigate whether the laser treatment that is currently used to treat glaucoma patients in the UK could improve glaucoma treatment options for patients in sub-Saharan Africa.
Currently, the treatment for glaucoma in sub-Saharan Africa is daily eye drops, which are expensive, CBM says, and only offered at hospitals, which are often difficult to reach for many patients.