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X-rays when young protect from Glaucoma?

Posting in Science

It is a leading cause of blindness - but can a single x-ray treatment prevent it for life?

Glaucoma, a condition where the optic nerve is damaged at the point it leaves your eye, is generally caused by fluid build-ups and pressure or weak optic nerves. It is a leading cause of blindness that is estimated to affect over 4 million Americans, and there is currently no known cure for the condition.

If the problem is identified early enough, there is a variety of treatments available that can help alleviate and limit the condition. This can prevent sufferers from losing their sight -- but unfortunately many do not realize they have the condition until it is in later stages.

However, a new preventative measure is being developed by researchers at the non-profit Jackson Laboratory, Maine. The team have found that a single, targeted x-ray treatment the size of a 'mouse eye' could be enough to provide permanent, lifelong protection from glaucoma.

This is not the first lab that have made the connection between radiation and glaucoma protection.
About 10 years ago, the John lab discovered that a single dose of radiation across the whole body, along with a bone marrow transfer, caused an unexpectedly high level of protection against glaucoma. Ninety-six percent of eyes treated with this radiation had no glaucoma after one year, in comparison to only 20 percent of 'control' group eyes.

Radiation was previously known to have a connection to glaucoma, however its specific effects were unclear. In one particular example, Japanese survivors of the atomic bombings experienced a myriad of detrimental health problems -- but instances of glaucoma decreased relative to the norm.

Key to the preventative treatment is that the researchers have found a blast of localized, concentrated radiation changes how endothelial cells respond to early stresses on ocular tissues. By reducing the entry of immune cells known as monocytes that are produced in the blood of the eye, damage and weakening of optic nerves over time is reduced.

These immune cells that spawn in the blood of the eye actually cause damage to the nerves, causing glaucoma -- but if caught early enough and prevented from taking root, glaucoma cannot develop.

The authors note in their paper:

"Given both the robust and long-term efficacy of a single dose of X-ray radiation in preventing cellular entry into the optic nerve and retina, it will be important to further evaluate the use of X-rays for preventing glaucoma."

In future studies the treatment in question has to be defined, as it so far has only been tested on mice. The next stage is to develop a treatment that can be applied to young people without any side effects.

The research is published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

(via Science Daily)

Image credit: Ibrahim Iujaz

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure