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Eye Health Center

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Glaucoma, Alzheimer's Disease Linked

Scientists Spot the Same Protein in Both Diseases; Finding May Inspire New Glaucoma Treatments
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 6, 2007 -- Scientists today announced that Alzheimer's disease and glaucoma share a risky protein called amyloid beta.

Targeting amyloid beta with Alzheimer's drugs may help treat glaucoma, according to the researchers, who work in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe.

Amyloid beta is a key ingredient of the brain plaque seen in Alzheimer's patients. Amyloid beta is also associated with glaucoma, new research shows.

The findings come from M. Francesca Cordeiro, MRCP, PhD, and colleagues.

Cordeiro works at the Glaucoma and Retinal Degeneration Research Group at University College London's Institute of Ophthalmology. Her MRCP degree means she's a doctor who's a member of the U.K.'s Royal College of Physicians.

Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness. Cordeiro's team studied glaucoma in rats, not people.

Due to glaucoma, the rats lost nerve cells in their eyes that transfer visual information from the eye to the brain, the researchers report. As that happened, amyloid beta built up in the area where those nerve cells had been.

To try to thwart that process, the scientists targeted amyloid beta with various types of drugs. That strategy reduced the number of nerve cells in the rats' eyes that died. The researchers got the best results when they gave the rats three types of drugs at once, instead of just one drug.

"We have shown that amyloid beta could be a particularly suitable target for therapeutic intervention in the eye" to help protect those nerve cells that glaucoma ravages, write Cordeiro and colleagues. Further research is needed to see if that approach will work in people.

In a news release, Cordeiro notes that "this doesn't mean that everyone with Alzheimer's will develop glaucoma or vice versa."

The findings appear in this week's early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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