Bascom Researcher Receives $1 Million Federal Defense Grant to Study Lipids to Combat Glaucoma

A researcher at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute is leading a research study to test whether a class of lipids found in inner eye fluid can help halt the progression of glaucoma among military troops and others who have experienced traumatic eye injury.

The three-year study, led by Sanjoy K. Bhattacharya, Ph.D., M.Tech., professor of ophthalmology, was funded in April by a $999,998 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. Collaborators include Richard K. Lee, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of ophthalmology; Noel Ziebarth, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering; and investigators Carol B. Toris, Ph.D., at Case Western Reserve University and Paul Kaufman, M.D., at the University of Wisconsin — Madison.

“My hope is that the combined aspects of this project will help us produce and commercialize a wonder drug that will help veterans,” said Bhattacharya, who was inspired to pursue the research after hearing stories of injured soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. One blinded soldier’s wish to see his daughter again resonated deeply.

“When you listen to those stories you never forget why and who you are working for,” said Bhattacharya, whose previous research with Lee indicates that lipids play a significant role in the aqueous humor fluid and the surrounding tissue.

Glaucomas are blinding diseases, and vision loss from glaucoma is irreversible.

An increase in intraocular pressure is a common precursor to glaucoma, which affects more than three million Americans. About 25 percent of glaucoma patients, including a large number of active duty military servicemen and veterans with trauma-induced eye injuries, are non-responsive to conventional glaucoma medication.

Traumatic injury affects natural drainage outflow of fluid and causes an increase in intraocular pressure. Damage to the optic nerve progressively leads to glaucoma and vision loss.

“Inevitably the glaucoma will happen but it can be put in check with the right targeted treatment,” said Bhattacharya. “That’s where we’ll seek to make the difference.”

Research suggests that the progression to glaucoma is due to the loss of lipids in the fluid after injury. The study will help determine whether intraocular pressure and aqueous humor outflow can be improved with a novel concoction of solutions applied to the eye.

Co-investigators will test the dosage and toxicity of the eye solution on small and large animal models. Investigators will also examine outflow pathways and characterize the protein composition and function of lipids.

Bhattacharya’s team at Bascom will produce the medication and study its effect on intraocular pressure.

Ziebarth’s lab will use custom equipment to help evaluate how the medication affects the stiffness of inner eye tissue or trabecular meshwork, which is responsible for drainage.

“I am excited to be part of this high-impact project,” Ziebarth said, “and I am confident that we will have a meaningful outcome.”

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