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What role do mitochondria play in glaucoma?

The tiny powerpacks in our cells could hold vital clues about why some patients continue to lose their sight from glaucoma despite treatment.

If your parents, sister or brother have glaucoma, you are four times more likely to have the disease.

But now research at the Centre for Eye Research Australia is looking at a different genetic link – the role of genes in your mitochondrial DNA, which you inherit from your mum.

Mitochondria are the tiny powerpacks which provide energy to our cells. They have a small but vital set of genes that are inherited from our mothers, which make them different from nuclear genes which we inherit from both parents.

Mitochondrial changes and cell damage

Associate Professor Ian Trounce is investigating how changes in mitochondrial DNA can lead to cell damage in the optic nerve and vision loss in glaucoma.

“Current treatments for glaucoma are aimed at lowering eye pressure but don’t slow vision loss for many patients,’’ he says.

Associate Professor Ian Trounce

Associate Professor Ian Trounce

“There is mounting evidence that defective mitochondria play a role in glaucoma and my research will further investigate that link.’’

In 2020 Associate Professor Trounce will work with ophthalmologists in Melbourne to recruit patients and their families to take part in his research.

After the initial analysis of data from 1000 people, a subset of around 5 per cent of patients will be followed up for more intensive investigation.

“The research will help us determine if and what mitochondrial gene changes are contributing to impaired vision in patients with glaucoma,’’ says Associate Professor Trounce.

“By identifying a new group of glaucoma patients, we will be able to investigate and develop new approaches to slowing vision loss that go beyond reducing eye pressure.’’

Associate Professor Trounce’s research is supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Kathleen Rankin Bequest.


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