Drugs to Stop Nearsightedness May Soon Come into Focus

November 8, 2019

Columbia researchers have identified hundreds of genes linked to nearsightedness, and they’re using that data to screen for new drugs that can safeguard sharp vision.

Although this work is still in the early stages, the researchers have identifed over 120 drug candidates, and several were able to suppress myopia development in mice. 

Severe myopia is associated with excessive elongation of the eyeball, which can cause a host of serious eye problems. Glasses, contacts, and laser surgery can restore 20/20 vision, but they cannot prevent conditions like retinal detachment, glaucoma, and cataracts that are often associated with myopia. 

“Nearsightedness is becoming more common, so we expect that the conditions associated with severe myopia--which blind many people--will also become more prevalent unless we find a way to prevent myopia from occurring,” says Andrei V. Tkatchenko, MD, PhD, associate professor of ophthalmic sciences at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Andrei V. Tkatchenko, MD, PhD (CUIMC)

To identify new drug candidates, Tkatchenko’s lab exploits its recent discovery of more than 900 myopia-related genes to identify specific molecules in the retina that could be targeted by drugs to stop the progression of myopia.

With specific targets established, the researchers then use computer algorithms to virtually screen libraries of existing drugs for antimyopia candidates. Particularly promising candidates identified by the screening are then tested in animal models of myopia.

"We still need to do a lot of work to elucidate the genetic network involved in the development of myopia in its entirety," Tkatchenko says, “but we think our pharmacogenomics approach is a powerful platform for finding effective antimyopia drugs in the near future.”

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A paper describing this work, titled "Pharmacogenomic approach to antimyopia drug development: pathways lead the way," was published in the November issue of Trends in Pharmacological Sciences. 

Tatiana Tkatchenko, MD, associate research scientist in the Department of Ophthalmology, was a co-author.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (R01EY023839P30EY019007) and Research to Prevent Blindness.

The authors report no financial or other conflicts of interest.