An international team of scientists led by Mass Eye and Ear, a member of Mass General Brigham, and Boston Children’s Hospital, has discovered a new genetic mutation that may be a root cause of severe cases of childhood glaucoma, a devastating condition that runs in families and can rob children of their vision by 3 years of age.
Through advanced genome-sequencing technology, the researchers found a mutation in the thrombospondin-1 (THBS1) gene in three ethnically and geographically diverse families with childhood glaucoma histories. The researchers then confirmed their findings in a mouse model that possessed the genetic mutation and went on to develop symptoms of glaucoma driven by a previously unknown disease mechanism.
The new findings, published December 1 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, could lead to improved screening for childhood glaucoma and earlier and more targeted treatments to prevent vision loss in children with the mutation, according to the study’s authors.
“This is a very exciting finding for families affected by childhood glaucoma,” said Janey L. Wiggs, MD, PhD, Associate Chief of Ophthalmology Clinical Research at Mass Eye and Ear and the Vice Chair for Ophthalmology Clinical Research and Paul Austin Chandler Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. “With this new knowledge, we can offer genetic testing to identify children in a family who may be at risk for the disease and start disease surveillance and conventional treatments earlier to preserve their vision. In the future, we would look to develop new therapies to target this genetic mutation.”
Leading cause of childhood blindness
Childhood, or congenital, glaucoma is a rare but serious disease that presents in children as early as birth and as late as 3 years of age. Despite its rarity, childhood glaucoma is responsible for 5 percent of cases of child blindness worldwide.
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