A biomarker of damage to cells in the eye could potentially prevent vision loss due to glaucoma. “There hasn’t been a reliable way to predict which patients with glaucoma have a high risk of rapid vision loss,” said Professor Rajendra S. Apte, from Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis.
“But we’ve identified a biomarker that seems to correlate with disease severity in patients, and what that marker is measuring is stress to the cells rather than cell death. Other glaucoma tests are measuring cell death, which is not reversible, but if we can identify when cells are under stress, then there’s the potential to save those cells to preserve vision.”
Studying mouse models of glaucoma, Prof. Apte and colleagues identified a molecule in the eye called growth differentiation factor 15 (GDF15). Levels of the molecule increased as the animals aged and developed optic nerve damage. Experiments in rats replicated the results. The researchers found patients undergoing eye surgery to treat glaucoma also had elevated GDF15 in the fluid of their eyes.
“That was exciting because comparing the fluid from patients without glaucoma to those with glaucoma, the GDF15 biomarker was significantly elevated in the glaucoma patients,” said Prof. Apte. “We also found that higher levels of the molecule were associated with worse functional outcomes, so this biomarker seems to correlate with disease severity.”
A potential limitation of the study was that fluid samples were taken from the eyes of patients only once so levels of GDF15 were not monitored over time. The study was published in JCI Insight. May 4, 2017.