The chances of a person developing glaucoma could be picked up as early as birth after scientists identified the genetic risk factors behind the world’s leading cause of incurable blindness.
Experts hope the “breakthrough” could pave the way for a genetic-based screening program.
Researchers from King’s College London and University College London, as well as Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School, discovered 133 genetic variants that could help predict the chances of a person contracting glaucoma with 75 per cent accuracy.
Lead author of the study Dr Pirro Hysi said the findings could help medics “focus scarce health care resources on those most at risk”.
Co-author Dr Anthony Khawaja added: “The predictive genetic markers could be measured as early as birth, even though glaucoma develops later in adulthood.
“These results help us to better understand the previously unknown mechanisms that cause this damaging disease. By understanding how glaucoma develops we can, in time, get ahead of the curve of the condition and support both those living with the disease and those who may develop it.”
Glaucoma, which starts with the loss of peripheral vision and gradually worsens, can often go unnoticed until it is too late.
It is believed to be caused by increased pressure in the eye, which damages the optic nerve.
Scientists studied the eye pressure readings of 140,000 people drawn from the UK Biobank and EPIC-Norfolk, a health study into older people in the county, and compared them with a DNA analysis of each patient to assess how likely it was that they would develop the condition.
The team was able to identify 133 genetic variants in the DNA of those who had high pressure readings, and so were at highest risk of developing the condition.
Co-author Dr Janey Wiggs said it was hoped the research would lead to faster and more accurate diagnoses in the future.
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