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First human trial to examine role of vitamin B3 in glaucoma treatment

A world-first clinical trial in Australia is investigating whether vitamin B3 could help protect nerve cells against damage in glaucoma.

The highly-anticipated Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) study is examining the effect of daily, high dose vitamin B3 in addition to typical treatments that lower eye pressure, with the findings expected to be released this year.

Current therapies aim to lower pressure rather than protecting or repairing cell damage. Earlier pre-clinical research in the US has shown that vitamin B3 could prevent optic nerve degeneration. The CERA research is the first time this approach has been trialled in humans.

Researcher Dr Flora Hui is leading the trial initiated by former CERA managing director Professor Jonathan Crowston, which is being continued in partnership with him in his new role in Singapore.

They are aiming to determine if therapeutic use of a high dose of the vitamin could be used to support existing therapies such as daily eye drops or, in severe cases, surgery.

“Our research has investigated if there is a way to protect nerve cells from further damage in glaucoma and also whether this treatment can support sick nerve cells to help them work better,’’ Hui said.

“Our study hopes to confirm that vitamin B3 can protect nerve cells from dying, in a similar way that adding oil to a faulty car engine can still allow it to run more smoothly.”

“Recent research has shown that in the early stages after injury to nerve cells, visual function can recover but that this ability diminished with age,’’ she said.

“We are now investigating treatments that could boost this recovery.’’

The research is supported by the Ophthalmic Research Institute of Australia, Jack Brockhoff Foundation, Marian and EH Flack Trust, Jean Miller Foundation and Connie and Craig Kimberley Fund.