Research Matters at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center (AHSC)
This Edition: The UA Department of Ophthalmology
March 22, 2001
From: Jo Gellerman, (520) 626-7301
UA Ophthalmology Researchers Study Cannabinoids to Treat Glaucoma
Two University of Arizona Department of Ophthalmology scientists are studying the molecular and cellular mechanisms by which cannabinoids lower pressure in the eye. According to their research, cannabinoids could play an important role in the future treatment of glaucoma.
Cannabinoids are a family of compounds, which includes the psychoactive components of marijuana and hashish. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active ingredient in marijuana, binds to and activates specific receptors in the body, known as cannabinoid receptors.
W. Daniel Stamer, Ph.D., and Robert Noecker, M.D., are studying how these receptors are involved in the regulation of intraocular pressure in the eye. They have identified specific receptors that activate upon the binding of cannabinoids in the two regions of the eye that control intraocular pressure. Their research could lead to the development of eye drops that specifically target the ocular cannabinoid receptor that lowers pressure while producing none of the psychoactive side effects.
Glaucoma is characterized by elevated intraocular pressure, which eventually leads to damage of the optic nerve and a progressive loss of vision. This disease is the second-leading cause of blindness in the United States and the single-most important cause of blindness in African Americans. More than 3 million people suffer from glaucoma in the United States.
The UA Department of Ophthalmology at the Arizona Health Sciences Center is renowned for research, patient care and academic achievement. Founded in 1982, the Department has grown to include 14 faculty members, who handled 28,000 patient visits last year and posted research expenditures of nearly $3 million.