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SCIENCE REPORT- January 10, 2002: New Glaucoma Treatments - 2002-01-09

This is the VOA Special English Science Report.

Sixty-seven-million people around the world cannot see because they suffer from the disease glaucoma.

The disease prevents the clear fluid in the eye from flowing normally. This causes increased fluid pressure inside the eye. The increased pressure can damage the optic nerve that carries images from the eye to the brain.

The most common kind of glaucoma mainly affects people over forty years old. People with family members who have the disease are more likely to develop glaucoma. Black people also are at higher risk for the disease. Others at high risk include people suffering from diabetes or high blood pressure.

The first sign of glaucoma is usually a very small loss of sight at the outside edges of the eye. Experts say most people do not know they have glaucoma until it causes a real loss of sight. Vision already lost to the disease cannot be restored.

However, the damage can be controlled and eyesight can be saved if the disease is discovered early. Doctors treat glaucoma with eye medicines or a laser light operation.

The United States Food and Drug Administration approved three new drugs last year to treat glaucoma. Two of these drugs increase the movement of fluid out of the eye. This reduces pressure in the eye. The third drug increases fluid drainage and also decreases the amount of fluid that is produced.

Researchers in Israel are developing a vaccine to treat glaucoma. Michal [me-KHAL] Schwartz is a professor at the Weizmann [VITES-mahn] Institute of Science in Rehovot [re-HO-vote]. She says tests on rats have shown that the drug Copaxone protects the optic nerve. The researchers may begin testing the vaccine in people in the next year or two. The Israeli researchers had developed Copaxone to treat the disease multiple sclerosis.

A Canadian researcher has created a device that permits people to measure their eye pressure at home. The device measures the pressure through the eyelid. Until now, measuring eye pressure could be done only at a doctor’s office. Experts say the new device will give glaucoma patients and their doctors better information about how drugs are working to control the pressure.

They also say that everyone over the age of forty should be tested for glaucoma by an eye doctor every year.

This VOA Special English Science Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.