Health

Unexpected findings show that the body’s own immune system destroys retinal cells — ScienceDaily

Unexpected findings show that the body’s own immune system destroys retinal cells — ScienceDaily

Glaucoma, a disease that afflicts nearly 70 million people worldwide, is something of a mystery despite its prevalence. Little is known about the origins of the disease, which damages the retina and optic nerve and can lead to blindness.

A new study from MIT and Massachusetts Eye and Ear has found that glaucoma may in fact be an autoimmune disorder. In a study of mice, the researchers showed that the body’s own T cells are responsible for the progressive retinal degeneration seen in glaucoma. Furthermore, these T cells appear to be primed to attack retinal neurons as the result of previous interactions with bacteria that normally live in our body.

The discovery suggests that it could be possible to develop new treatments for glaucoma by blocking this autoimmune activity, the researchers say.

“This opens a new approach to prevent and treat glaucoma,” says Jianzhu Chen, an MIT professor of biology, a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and one of the senior authors of the study, which appears in Nature Communications on Aug. 10.