- Glaucoma is a group of incurable eye diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve.
- Glaucoma, thought of as an old person’s disease, affects children although the incidence is rare.
- The Dandie Dinmont Terrier is prone to glaucoma, making this breed of dog a natural model to study.
Can you imagine living in growing darkness as a child? For Hannah Eckstein, diagnosed with glaucoma months after she was born, the world grew darker and life more difficult when she lost her vision in one eye. Anxious to protect their little girl’s remaining sight, Hannah’s parents wouldn’t let her play with a ball even though she loved soccer. Whether at home or school, she had to follow a rigid treatment schedule to control the glaucoma, which is actually a group of diseases that affects the optic nerve and is the second greatest cause of human blindness in the world. The Dandie Dinmont Terrier is also prone to glaucoma, and this furry, four-legged friend is helping researchers find new ways to help people of all ages to live better with this incurable eye disease.
A Blinding Problem
Glaucoma causes gradual vision loss due to the buildup of pressure in the eye. Higher pressure damages the optic nerve which transmits images to the brain. If the pressure continues to increase untreated, glaucoma can cause total permanent blindness within a few years. Most people with glaucoma have no early symptoms or pain, and in some forms of the disease the initial vision loss is of peripheral vision, so the disease can go easily undetected (“Glaucoma and Your Eyes,” 2014). Most people think of glaucoma as an old person’s disease, but glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in children.
Man’s Best Friend Put to the Test
Doctor Gary Johnson at the University of Missouri was the first researcher to study glaucoma in the Dandie Dinmont Terrier. Since 2007, Professor Hannes Lohi at the University of Helsinki, Finland, has been collecting samples from healthy and diseased dogs from around the world, and researchers using data from the terriers have found an area on the canine chromosome 8 that is associated with glaucoma. This same chromosome has been associated with glaucoma in humans, providing hope that when the exact gene and mutation are identified in the terriers, they will match a similar gene and mutation in humans (Helsingin yliopisto, 2013). Such a discovery would open the door to more effective therapies so that dogs and people could keep their precious sense of sight intact.
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