10th August 2018
Study suggests glaucoma may be an autoimmune disease
Unexpected findings show that the body’s own immune system destroys retinal cells.
Anne Trafton | MIT News Office
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.
Dong Feng Chen, an associate professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School and the Schepens Eye Research Institute of Massachusetts Eye and Ear, is also a senior author of the study. The paper’s lead authors are Massachusetts Eye and Ear researchers Huihui Chen, Kin-Sang Cho, and T.H. Khanh Vu.