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Research Paths

Note: the posting or linking of research, news, information or forum articles on this site does not mean that any proposed treatment methods are accepted or safe. Subject material posted at this section is FOR INFORMATION ONLY, and the INFORMATION CONTAINED THEREIN IS NOT AN ENDORSEMENT BY IFOND. If you seek treatment or preventative guidance, discuss this with your personal health professional.

Douglas Wallace's ground breaking work in the late 1980's on Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations in Leber's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy helped clear the way for a fresh approach to understanding Optic Nerve Disease in general as well as other degenerative processes in nerve, brain, muscle, heart and other systems. Worldwide, work continues on mitochondrial [MitoMap.org] as well as chromosomal genetic factors in all the optic nerve diseases. The huge Human Genome Project hopes to unravel many fine details of disease processes. The Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man site documents progress in understanding all human genetic disease.

Population Studies (Epidemiology) [To Articles] [Top]

The frequency and pattern of occurence of disease in different population groups may give clues to disease trigger factors. For example, glaucoma is more common and younger in onset in Americans of African heritage than their compatriots. Why? The fact that LHON expression is more likely in men than women mtDNA mutation carriers and expression rates vary in different populations is cause for much speculation and some, but not enough research. Some areas of the world, e.g. Cuba and Tanzania, seem to produce outbreaks of optic neuropathy. Nutritional, toxic, or unknown genetic factors are suspected.

Family Studies [To Articles] [Top]

Studying family lines with optic nerve disease is vital for researchers to help unravel the genetic and environmental factors contributing to disease. Many important insights have been found, such as patterns of inheritance, different types of expression (phenotypes) of disease depending on particular mutations, the deleterious effects smoking and alcohol have on eyes and interaction of other diseases such as diabetes, vascular and other nerve diseases with optic nerve diseases.

Neuroanatomy/Histology [To Articles] [Top]

No subject could be more fundamental to understanding mechanisms of optic nerve disease. In this old discipline new important discoveries are still being made. The details of microanatomical retinal and optic nerve pathways may point to likely disease processes be they neuroreceptor up- or down-regulation, axonal transport defects, microcirculation changes or lamina cribrosa pressure points. (See the Webvision site for retinal neuroanatomy.)

Neurophysiology [To Articles] [Top]

The nervous system, of which the eye is a part, is a complex world of neurotransmitters, receptors, electrical energy gradients, transcription and translation regulators, membrane protein enzymes and channels, signal transducers, up regulators, down regulators, growth factors, chemical transport mechanisms, organelles, junctions, gaps, etc. Describing in detail the normal harmonious functioning of all the working parts of the nervous system is the huge job of the physiologist. The physiology of healthy nerves contains clues regarding toxic, nutritive, ageing and drug effects in disease. Why are retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) prone to death in optic nerve disease? More specifically, why are P type midget system RGCs selected for destruction in LHON and M type RGCs more susceptible in Glaucoma? Perhaps the neurophysiologists can tell us.

Biochemistry/Molecular Medicine/Cell Biology [To Articles] [Top]

These disciplines identify and describe the components of living cells, their functions in the cell and their differences among different cell types. They lie at the core of our understanding of conception, growth, disease, degeneration and death of all living things. Intensive basic neuroscience research is centred around mechanisms of nerve cell life, growth and death in health and disease. One burning unanswered issue in LHON expression is the one of male predominance. There is a lack of genetic evidence for an X-linked genetic factor. Could the epigenetic factor be female hormonal effects on inhibitory neuro receptors?

Histopathology [To Articles] [Top]

Looking at diseased eye tissues under microscopes using special stains, markers and equipment and analyzing eye tissue samples borrows from advances in neuroanatomy, histology, neurophysiology and cell biology to learn exactly where and how optic nerve disease occurs. e.g. Glutamate neurotransmitter excitotoxicity seems to play a role in Glaucoma and ischaemic optic neuropathy as shown by higher glutamate levels found in the vitreous humour of glaucomatous eyes. Is this also the case for LHON and toxic optic neuropathy? Is the massing of mitochondria found in electron microscopic sections of LHON optic nerves compensating for their inefficient energy production? Non invasive techniques of studying live human eyes' diseased tissues are advancing our knowledge of optic neuropathies.

Clinical Methods [To Articles] [Top]

It is critical to a patient's outcome that any optic nerve disease be diagnosed early and accurately. Research is refining methods to quickly differentiate syndromes with similar presentation so that early appropriate treatment may be offered.

Diagnostic & Imaging Technology [To Articles] [Top]

Work on refining techniques to scan the detailed structure and function of living eyes and optic nerves may give us more warning in monitoring disease processes and give us the knowledge to better understand and treat optic neuropathies.

We have witnessed the revolutionary success in the preventive medicine approaches to the big killers, blood vessel disease and cancer. These include cholesterol reduction and eating the "correct" variety of food including vegetables and fruits with due consideration of vitamin supplements, anti oxidants and fatty acid type ratios, and avoiding toxins. Much epidemiology and biochemistry lies behind this knowledge. Much of this applies to optic nerve function too.

Pharmacology/Toxicology [To Articles] [Top]

In glaucoma intra ocular pressure reducing drugs delay retinal ganglion cell (RGC) loss but disease tends to progress anyway. New concepts in RGC preservation in glaucoma as well as brain cell preservation in stroke and trauma are being explored which may have implications for the other optic neuropathies. Insight gained from studying the mechanisms underlying toxic optic neuropathies could be applied to treating other optic neuropathies and retinopathies. For example:

  • What are the mechanisms involved in tobacco-alcohol amblyopia? These are relevant to LHON and to adult onset macular degeneration as epigenetic factors.
  • Does the vision loss associated with use of the anti epileptic drug, vigabatrin, have anything to do with its inhibition of GABA transaminase? GABA is an inhibitory retinal neurotransmitter.
  • Does the observation of slower deterioration of vision in Glaucoma patients taking nitrates or calcium channel blockers (for coronary artery disease) imply a vascular effect or a neurotransmitter down regulating effect by nitric oxide or blocking of axonal membrane calcium flux respectively? What implications does this have for potential drug or nutritional (e.g. L-Arginine) treatment of optic neuropathies in general?
Infectious Disease/Immunology [To Articles] [Top]

Infections can play a role in precipitating optic nerve disease. For example, transverse myelitis, one cause of Optic Neuritis can be brought on by infections such as Mononucleosis (Epstein-Barr Virus, Cytomegalovirus). Recently it has been found that people with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) can have visual field losses consistent with Optic Nerve Disease before any other evidence of Aquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is seen. The injury mechanism is not determined. In full blown AIDS neurologic abnormalities including Optic Nerve disease consistent with the progressive diffuse leukoencephalopathy (PDL) in the brains of AIDS victims are being studied. Tumour necrosis factor is postulated to play an important role here. Animal models are used to study this. Prion disease has barely been considered a factor in human eye disease, but it is known that inoculation of scrapie into conjunctiva can cause neural inflammation in rodents. Neurocysticercosis (brain tapeworm disease), the most common parasitic infection of the brain, can cause optic neuropathy.

Time honoured anterior chamber pressure relief surgery, trabeculectomy, in high tension glaucoma can be sight saving. More recent study shows that pressure relief around the optic nerve itself, optic nerve sheath fenestration, is not indicated in acute ischemic neuropathy. Experimental research going on now gives hope for future nerve transplants, implants, nerve regeneration, gene transfer/repair, artificial eyes, and brain cortex stimulators as solutions to optic neuropathy vision loss.

Information Technology [To Articles] [Top]

Braille is not yet superceded, but they're working tools to circumvent blindness.

Consciousness Theory [To Articles] [Top]

If blind people can see in their dreams, shouldn't it be possible to make reality a dream and thereby turn their dreams of sight into reality? In humans seeing is a large part of consciousness. People from such diverse fields as cognitive psychology, neuroanatomy, functional brain imaging, single cell neurophysiology, computer science, biomechanical engineering, artificial intelligence, mathematics, philosophy and quantum physics are asking the questions: what is consciousness and how does it work? When we close in on the answers to these questions we will be closer to our dreams.


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The International Foundation for Optic Nerve Disease
P. O. Box 777, Cornwall NY 12518, USA.
Phone [g voice]: 6572067250
Email: ifond@aol.com
Web site: http://www.ifond.org/


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The information contained on this website should not be considered medical guidance or professional advice. IFOND is not responsible for errors or omissions in information provided on this site or actions resulting from its use. IFOND does not publish all information from all available sources on optic nerve disease. IFOND is not responsible for the validity of the studies or reviews nor is it an advocate of studies or reviews mentioned on or linked from the IFOND web site. IFOND does not endorse or recommend participation in any particular clinical trial or treatment protocol which may be mentioned on this site. Direct any questions concerning your personal health to your appropriate health care professional.