Glaucoma, the blinding condition which affects nearly 500,000 people in Britain, may be an autoimmune disease which could be cured, scientists believe.
The common eye problem was thought to occur when fluid builds up in the eye, crushing the optic nerve and causing irreversible damage to the retina.
But now scientists believe it may actually be the result of the body’s own immune system attacking cells in the eye which it mistakes for a bacterial infection.
Usually immune cells are barred from entering the eye to prevent inflammation, but in studies in mice, researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and MIT, proved that some were able to get through and eat away at the retinal cells.
When they looked for the same damaging immune cells in humans, researchers found people with glaucoma had five times the number compared to people with full vision.
“Our work shows that there is hope for finding a cure for glaucoma, or even preventing its development entirely, if we can find a way to target this pathway,” said co-senior Dr Dong Feng Chen, a vision scientist at Mass. Eye and Ear and associate professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School.