SAN FRANCISCO, CA--(Marketwire - January 4, 2011) - January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month and the Glaucoma Research Foundation today announced that novel new findings about the underlying cause of glaucoma have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Early Edition ahead of print). The study was largely funded by the Melza M. and Frank Theodore Barr Foundation through the Glaucoma Research Foundation (GRF).

"Our mission is to invest in innovative research that can help preserve vision for the more than 60 million people worldwide who suffer from glaucoma," said Thomas M. Brunner, President and CEO of the Glaucoma Research Foundation. "The GRF is pleased to support this groundbreaking research during National Glaucoma Awareness Month and we believe these findings will shed new light on our understanding, and ultimately the treatment, of glaucoma."

The study titled, Myelination transition zone astrocytes are constitutively phagocytic and have synuclein dependent reactivity in glaucoma, can be accessed from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences at Researchers employed a range of techniques including molecular biology, electron microscopy and image analysis to uncover three interconnected new discoveries about glaucoma:

Glaucoma Reveals New Similarities to Parkinson's Disease: Glaucoma is characterized by formation of protein aggregates called gamma-synuclein. Most other neurodegenerative disorders, like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), are characterized by the aggregation of proteins. In Parkinson's disease, a very similar protein called alpha-synuclein is aggregated. This finding provides evidence that glaucoma acts more like protein aggregation neurodegenerative diseases than like other blinding eye diseases. 

New Cellular Mechanism Discovery: A subpopulation of support cells, called astrocytes, have been found to have a highly unexpected role in cleaning up the byproducts or waste of the cells that die in glaucoma, the retinal ganglion cells. This type of "degradative" activity was not previously known to exist, and its existence may help explain perplexing findings in many neurodegenerative disorders besides glaucoma.

Underlying Cause of Vision Loss: Previous work by scientists had pointed to an anatomical location, the optic nerve head, where vision loss most likely occurs in glaucoma. This study is the first to pinpoint where within the optic nerve head the blinding insult is likely to be, which would explain the very characteristic pattern of blindness in glaucoma.

"These compelling results put us on the cusp of discovering a treatment for glaucoma while also being invaluable for others whose research priority is in the area of other neurodegenerative diseases," said Dr. Nicholas Marsh-Armstrong, senior study author and a research scientist at Kennedy Krieger Institute. "Our primary goal is to find interventions that halt or at least slow glaucoma progression. We believe that understanding the underlying mechanism of vision loss in glaucoma brings us much closer to that goal. Indeed, now that we think we understand where and what the key blinding insult is in glaucoma, there are a number of diagnostic and treatment options that become self-evident."

While this research was principally funded by the Glaucoma Research Foundation, Dr. Marsh-Armstrong and other scientists at Kennedy Krieger Institute collaborated on this study with colleagues at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, University of California at San Diego, Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, and the University of Murcia in Spain. Additional grant funding was provided in part by the International Retinal Research Foundation and the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health

About Glaucoma
Glaucoma is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes blindness by damaging the optic nerve, which sends signals from the eye to the brain. It affects more than 60 million people and is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. While older individuals are at higher risk for the disease, babies and children are also susceptible to glaucoma.

About Glaucoma Research Foundation
Located in San Francisco, the Glaucoma Research Foundation is the nation's most experienced foundation dedicated solely to glaucoma research and education. In addition to funding innovative research like the Catalyst For a Cure research consortium and its Shaffer Grants for Innovative Glaucoma Research, Glaucoma Research Foundation provides free education material, including the definitive reference for newly diagnosed patients, Understanding and Living with Glaucoma (available in both English and Spanish), and brochures serving those at highest risk, including African-Americans and Latinos. For more information, please visit

Contact Information:

Media Contacts:

Glaucoma Research Foundation:
Andrew Jackson
Director of Communications
Phone: (415) 986-3162 ext. 273

CoActive Health Communications:
Carmen Caricchio
Phone: (415) 621-6626