New York, NY (2001) -- Researchers at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary are investigating a drug called Memantine, which has been used in Europe for 20 years for various neurologic disorders, to determine its effectiveness in treating glaucoma.
"In the past, treatment for glaucoma has focused on lowering fluid pressure within the eye using drugs, laser therapy or surgery, said Robert Ritch, M.D., chief of the Glaucoma Service and the lead researcher at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary for a nationwide, multi-institutional, phase III study. "We are looking at a new approach. It involves protecting healthy optic nerve cells from toxic substances in the eye that are released by near-by, dying nerve cells."
How does the drug work? When injured nerve cells die, they release toxic substances into the local environment. These toxic substances harm previously healthy nerve cells, which sicken and die, a process known as secondary degeneration. "The aim of our study is to determine if Memantine can limit and prevent damage to the retina and optic nerve by blocking secondary degeneration," said Dr. Ritch.
"Memantine has been shown to be effective at blocking the excitotoxic response of retinal ganglion cells both in culture and in vivo. These phase III trials will indicate how effective it is for patients with glaucoma," he said. The trial involves 600 patients, many of them in New York City, and is sponsored by Allergan.
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