Glaucoma blinds millions of people a year, but little is known of its causes. Exciting new findings, from the laboratory of Dr. Simon John at the Jackson Laboratory, pinpoint aspecific biological process as a causative agent, and suggest that a single dose of radiationdirected into the eye may protect that eye from glaucoma. For life. The research, justpublished in the
Journal of Clinical Investigation
, provides new clues to the causes of glaucoma and points to therapeutic strategies that could be used to protect people fromsome forms of the disease.In 2005, scientists in Dr. John’s lab made a startling discovery. The group was in the midstof an experiment on mice that inherit glaucoma. They had exposed some of the mice toradiation, for the purpose of performing bone marrow transplants. Strikingly, theirradiated mice were fully protected from glaucoma. The protective treatment was 96%effective and lifelong. While it was apparent that radiation was the key factor, the scientistsdid not know how radiation exerted the protective effect, or even where the effect wasexerted. The new work published by Dr. John, with Dr. Gareth Howell as lead author,answers these questions and more.Glaucoma is a degenerative disease of the eye, in which the optic nerve is progressively destroyed, leading to blindness. The disease is complex and takes various forms. In themice studied by Howell and colleagues, pressure inside the eye becomes abnormally high,causing damage to the optic nerve, a pattern that is typical of many forms of humanglaucoma.