Bascom Palmer Researchers Discover Protein that Leads to Glaucoma

The interdisciplinary team at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine found that levels of cochlin, a protein product of the COCH gene, rise just prior to the elevation of intraocular pressure in the eye. An increase in intraocular pressure is a common precursor to glaucoma, an eye disease that affects more than three million Americans.

Sanjoy K. Bhattacharya, Ph.D., M.Tech., professor of ophthalmology; Jianhua (Jay) Wang, M.D., Ph.D., M.S., associate professor of ophthalmology; and Giovanni Gregori, Ph.D., research associate professor of ophthalmology, measured cochlin in experimental models and found peak levels of the protein precede clinical glaucoma symptoms. “The ability to detect and quantify cochlin in the local tissues of the eye prior to clinical detection of the disease offers potential diagnostic and prognostic value,” says Bhattacharya. “This discovery paves the way for physicians and researchers to record levels of protein and lipid biomarkers in the eyes for progressive blinding eye diseases such as glaucoma.” The findings were shared in the June 5 online edition of Scientific Report, a Nature Group publication.

Bhattacharya’s research concentrates on the cell biology of the trabecular meshwork, an area of tissue in the eye responsible for draining the aqueous fluid from the eye. An imbalance in the fluid can result in elevation of intraocular pressure, which damages the optic nerve and results in gradual vision loss associated with glaucoma. Vision loss from glaucoma is irreversible.

Wang, an ophthalmologist and engineer, develops state-of-the-art imaging equipment that provides clearer images and detailed information about the eye. This advanced equipment allows researchers to analyze and evaluate cross-sectional images of the entire retinal layer of the eye. For these studies supported by National Institutes of Health grants, Wang specifically designed and built a sophisticated optical coherence tomography instrument combining two different approaches (spectroscopic and magnetomotive). This specialized instrument, available only at Bascom Palmer, was used to detect the levels of cochlin. Using his mathematical expertise, Gregori extracted relevant information from the large sets of data that were sorted, analyzed and quantified for the study. Working with the Bascom Palmer team were Ayman Aljohani, a clinical postdoctoral fellow, and Teresia Carreon, a University of Miami graduate student in research.

The research is funded by NIH grants totaling $1.5 million. The findings are online at: