Yale Medical School to Begin Clinical Trial For Glaucoma Medication

A drug that may protect the eye from damage caused by glaucoma, which is one of the leading causes of blindness around the world, soon will be administered at Yale Medical School in a clinical trial.

M. Bruce Shields, M.D., chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at the Yale Eye Center, said the study will look at whether the drug memantine is effective in protecting the optic nerve from damage by glaucoma or other mechanisms.

“Glaucoma has been treated for 150 years, medically and surgically, but all of our treatments have been for one purpose, to lower the pressure in the eye,” Dr. Shields said. “We know that elevated pressure is the main cause of optic nerve damage, which is what leads to the blindness.”

“We also have realized for many years that lowering the pressure alone does not always prevent the progressive loss of vision in some patients,” he said. “So this new concept of medication called neuro-protective agents are really medicines that have nothing to do with the pressure in the eye, but have a direct effect on protecting the optic nerve from damage caused by other problems.”

Memantine has been available since the early 1960s and has been used primarily as an anti-viral agent. It later was found to have some benefit for certain neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s Disease, as well as for some types of dementia.

Dr. Shields said the study would be conducted at many sites around the country. A New Haven opthamologist, Dr. David Silverstone, also is participating in the study.

The patients who will be enrolled in the clinical trial will be those already afflicted with glaucoma. One third will be given 10 milligrams of memantine, one third will be administered 20 milligrams, and one third will be given a placebo, Dr. Shields said.

“The study will go on for four years and during that time what we will be watching to see is if the treated patients have a reduced incidence of loss of vision,” Dr. Shields said.

Some patients who are being treated at the Yale Eye Center have already been accepted into the study. Other patients can be referred by their opthamologists, or they can call and inquire about the clinical trial.

Interested persons can call Dr. Shield’s office at (203) 785-2020 and ask to speak either to Dr. Shields or Ann Leone, a nurse technician and clinical coordinator, or they can call Dr. Silverstone’s office at (203) 789-2020.

There is no charge for the medication and patients will be reimbursed for transportation, parking and meal costs, if applicable.

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