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New Eye Drops May Prevent a Common Cause of Blindness

June 29, 2020
Eye scans showing retinal vein occlusion with and without Casp-9 inhibitor

Eye drops with a caspase-9 inhibitor prevent retinal injury from retinal vein occlusion. In the left image, RVO causes swelling in the retina and the retinal layers are less distinct. In the right image, the eye drops have restored the distinct layers of the retina. (Image credit: Troy lab, Columbia University)

Researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center have developed eye drops that could prevent vision loss after retinal vein occlusion, a major cause of blindness for millions of adults worldwide. 

A study, in mice, suggests that the experimental therapy—which targets a common cause of neurodegeneration and vascular leakage in the eye—could have broader therapeutic effects than existing drugs.

The new treatment targets an enzyme called caspase-9, says Carol M. Troy, MD, PhD, professor of pathology & cell biology and of neurology in the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, who led the studies. Under normal conditions, caspase-9 is believed to be primarily involved in programmed cell death, a tightly regulated mechanism for naturally eliminating damaged or excess cells. 

In studies of mice, the Troy lab discovered that when blood vessels are injured by retinal vein occlusion, caspase-9 becomes uncontrollably activated, triggering processes that can damage the retina.

The study was published in Nature Communications.