Common vitamin could stop devastating eye disease

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(Update July 2020: Read about the results of this study here.)


A humble vitamin B3 supplement could be the key to treating one of the biggest causes of irreversible vision loss in the world.

Researchers from the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) in Melbourne are conducting a world-first human trial of an over-the-counter vitamin supplement to treat glaucoma, a disease of the optic nerve which affects 60 million people worldwide.

Professor Jonathan Crowston is the lead investigator of the study and Dr Flora Hui is the Research Fellow conducting the six-month clinical trial. They hope to prove that therapeutic use of high dosage vitamin B3 (nicotinamide) could be used to support existing therapies for glaucoma, such as daily eye drops or in severe cases, surgery.

“Imagine your car’s engine is running a bit rough and as a result, the car doesn’t drive smoothly. If you top up the engine with oil, the car runs better, even though you haven’t fixed the underlying problem,” explains Dr Hui.

“Our study hopes to confirm that vitamin B3 can protect nerve cells from dying, in a similar way that adding oil to a faulty car engine can still allow it to run more smoothly,” she concludes.

Professor Jonathan Crowston leads the Glaucoma Research and is Managing Director of the Centre for Eye Research Australia. “Glaucoma currently has no cure and vision loss is generally thought to be irreversible,” he said.

“We have recently discovered that in the early stages after an injury, visual function can in fact recover, but that the ability to recover diminishes with increasing age. We have developed clinical tests that now allow us to look for visual recovery in the clinic and are beginning to look at treatment that could boost recovery. Our premise is that if you can improve optic nerve recovery after an injury that we can reduce the risk of glaucoma progressing,” said Prof Crowston.

In 2017, a US research team led by Prof Simon W.M. John and Dr Pete Williams from the JAX laboratories in the USA, found that vitamin B3 given to glaucoma-prone mice prevented optic nerve degeneration and glaucoma. In fact, this treatment also reversed the negative effects of ageing in the mouse eye. “We were very excited by these findings and are now looking at the effect of vitamin B3 in glaucoma patients,” said Prof Crowston.

This research was made possible by the generosity of the Jean Miller Foundation, the Jack Brockhoff Foundation, The Marian & E.H. Trust and the Ophthalmic Research Institute of Australia.

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