Treating Glaucoma

Treating Glaucoma

Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide. It is estimated that 2.7 million people in the United States have glaucoma of which up to 50 percent are undiagnosed. Unfortunately, early detection remains difficult, and even though the disease can be controlled, currently there is no cure for glaucoma. Dr. John Danias of SUNY Downstate Medical Center believes that the cure for glaucoma can be discovered within the next 30 years and he, with the help of many collaborators at SUNY Downstate Medical, are at the forefront of this life-changing research.

Dr. Danias has been working with fellow researchers to discover the causes of glaucoma and what can be done to cure it. Their work could also lead to new findings and better outcomes for other neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. Dr. Danias says, "Understanding and curing one neurodegenerative disease will improve our understanding of the processes that lead to pathology in the central nervous system, opening new avenues for therapy."

One of Dr. Danias' most recent discoveries is that inflammation in other parts of the body can affect glaucomatous neurodegeneration of the optic nerve. This finding has potentially very important implications as common conditions like periodontitis may, if left untreated, worsen glaucoma. He is currently trying to understand the mechanisms responsible for this effect and develop gene therapy for glaucoma.

Glaucoma comes in two different forms: open angle glaucoma and angle closure glaucoma. They are both related to high pressure inside the eye that damages the nerve that connects the eye with the brain and allows us to see, but Dr. Danias says, "The nature and time-course of the diseases are different." Open angle glaucoma is more insidious while angle closure glaucoma is usually more dramatic in its presentation. Glaucoma is a chronic disease and is commonly diagnosed in people in their sixties. Dr. Danias recommends everyone over the age of 40 have their eyes examined every two years. He says, "It's sad to see people with so much disability because they did not know they had the disease until it was too late." Dr. Danias' compassion sustains his motivation to prevent, treat and eventually develop cures for glaucoma. 

Dr. Danias grew up in Greece and received his M.D. from the University of Athens Medical School where he was later conferred a Ph.D. in Histology and Embryology. He moved to the United States in 1992. After completing a post-doctoral fellowship at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, he completed an internship in Internal Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. He remained in New York completing his ophthalmology residency and glaucoma fellowship at the Mount Sinai Medical Center. Dr. Danias was then appointed to the faculty of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine where he remained until 2009. He joined the Departments of Ophthalmology and Cell Biology at the State University of New York Downstate Medical School as Professor in 2009 and was tenured in 2011. He was appointed Vice Chair for Research of the Department of Ophthalmology at SUNY Downstate and Director of the Glaucoma Service in 2014 and was appointed chair of the Department in 2019.

Settling at Downstate Medical was an easy decision because as Dr. Danias puts it,

"Downstate Medical led the grassroots effort within SUNY to create the SUNY Eye Institute (SEI). SEI is a virtual Institute in which vision scientists that work at all SUNY schools get the ability to interact and collaborate. SEI has helped put New York State at the forefront of modern vision research and provided impetus and resources to foster collaboration within the system thus enhancing the work's impact."

Dr. Danias is greatly humbled by the commitment of fellow researchers at SEI to achieve a common goal.

Dr. Danias credits the success of his work to not just himself but contributions made by fellow researchers and collaborators. He says: "You cannot expect to be an expert in every aspect of modern knowledge. To truly achieve success in research and funding you must work with others". Dr. Danias recognizes his success in research funding and suggests:

"You shouldn't get disappointed if ideas or grant applications don't get immediate traction. Sometimes it takes a while for people to consider and accept ideas that are not part of the current "dogma". In science, our current understanding is often flawed. The key is to be open minded and willing to question and criticize your own work. Working hard and collaboratively as a team player will eventually lead to answers to difficult problems and to success."

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