Glaucoma is the most common age-related neurodegenerative eye-disease in western society and one of the four major blinding eye diseases. Glaucoma is an insidious disease that – when untreated or detected too late – leads inevitably to blindness, resulting in a profound loss of quality of life for the affected individual and in major costs to society. In the European Union, approximately 6 million people have glaucoma. They all require chronic medical care, which is a severe burden on the healthcare system. Moreover, current treatment – which aims at lowering ocular pressure – can slow deterioration but does not halt the process. Approximately 15% of glaucoma patients still become blind.
The conventional view of glaucoma is that of an eye disease in which an elevated intraocular pressure damages the retinal nerve cells mechanically, initially resulting in visual field loss, and ultimately in blindness. However, recent insights have indicated that this classic view is far too simplistic: rather than being a disease restricted to the eye, glaucoma involves both intraocular pressure and intracranial pressure and it damages neural tissue in both the eye and the brain. Up to 65 genes with widely varying functions have been implicated in glaucoma and striking resemblances have been found with two other major neurodegenerative disorders, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Glaucoma is thus vastly more complex than previously assumed.
EGRET+ – the European Glaucoma Research Training Program Plus – has the aim of teaching young researchers in how to:
a) acquire new, quantitative knowledge on glaucoma and the aging visual system
b) apply this new knowledge to boost innovation in glaucoma care in both the public and private sectors.