An optometrist-turned-research fellow leading a world-first clinical trial investigating whether daily doses of vitamin B3 could prevent glaucoma blindness has been awarded Glaucoma Australia (GA)’s 2020 Quinlivan Research Grant.
Dr Flora Hui, research fellow at the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA), led an earlier study that was the first to show vitamin B3 (nicotinamide) led to early and significant improvements in visual function in people with glaucoma.
Now, in partnership with GA and international researchers, Hui and Professor Keith Martin, CERA managing director and head of ophthalmology at the University of Melbourne, will conduct a two-year study to conclusively determine whether vitamin B3 can delay disease progression and therefore be taken by patients on an ongoing basis.
Independent of lowering eye pressure, vitamin B3 could be the first treatment that protects nerve cells in glaucoma, changing the way the disease is treated and managed.
GA, which awarded the grant with its patron Governor-General David Hurley, will fund $200,000 over two years to support Hui’s Targeting Metabolic Insufficiency in Glaucoma with Nicotinamide (TAMING) trial which could lead to the first therapy that promotes retinal ganglion cell health and survival in glaucoma.
The trial will involve 150 participants, diagnosed and treated for primary open angle glaucoma and is expected to run for three years.
According to Hui, many high-risk glaucoma patients do not respond to intraocular pressure (IOP)-lowering treatments and can continue to progress to blindness despite well-controlled IOP.
“In these patients, retinal ganglion cells are predicted to have increased vulnerability to risk factors such as mitochondrial dysfunction,” she said.
“Neuroprotective treatments – mechanisms and strategies that aim to protect the nervous system from injury and damage – that directly enhance retinal ganglion cell survival and function, will transform patient management and are of great therapeutic need.”
GA president Associate Professor Simon Skalicky said there was a lot of interest among glaucoma researchers in medicines that might protect the optic nerve from eye pressure-related glaucoma damage.
“Over the last 10 to 15 years there has been a shift from looking at the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of glaucoma, which is still important, towards research that is focused on having a direct impact on patient care. We are seeing this in the selection of this year’s Quinlivan Research Grant recipient, Dr Flora Hui; as well as last year’s recipients,” he said.
Last year Dr George Kong, from The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital and Professor Jamie Craig, from Flinders University, were joint recipients.
Kong’s funding supported a clinical trial to examine the validity of home monitoring using the world’s first software app for tablet devices for glaucoma patients; Craig studied population level screening to provide evidence which drives early intervention to the highest risk individuals before vision loss occurs.
The William A Quinlivan Research Fund was established in 2006. Since its inception, GA has committed more than $1 million to support Australian glaucoma research.
The next round of grants commences in 2022. It is expected to open on 14 June 2021, and close on 1 September 2021.