The vitamin supplement that could prevent glaucoma blindness

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Clinical trials are underway to test the effectiveness of Vitamin B3 in treating glaucoma.

It’s a supplement anyone can buy at their local pharmacy and researchers hope it could be the treatment to help prevent and possibly reverse blindness in glaucoma patients.

A world first clinical trial is underway at the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA), at Melbourne’s Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, to test the effectiveness of Vitamin B3 in glaucoma patients.

CERA researcher, Dr Flora Hui, said that used in conjunction with other therapies, the vitamins produce the energy needed to extend the life of the cells.

“So essentially the cells at the back of the eye that are sick is a bit like having an engine that's running a bit rough. And adding the vitamin B3 to it is like adding some engine oil essentially.”

The trial follows a successful study on mice in the United States, which found high doses of Vitamin B3 prevented the onset of the devastating eye disease.

“As there’s no cure, all our therapies are aimed at lowering the pressure in the eye, in glaucoma, and so we’re hoping that the vitamin is there to compliment these therapies to try and prevent future progression.”

Rosemary Workman, 61, noticed a defect in her peripheral vision three years ago.

“There's a little bit of my visual field missing. If you think of a picture, there's a little bit that's not there, the brain usually fills in the gaps but there are occasions can notice it." she said. 

Ms Workman was diagnosed with glaucoma, a condition which affects the eyesight of 60 million people worldwide and about 300 thousand Australians, half of who go undiagnosed.

Dr Hui said optic nerve damage generally impacts side vision first before eye health gradually declines.

“We know that approximately one in ten Australians over the age of 80 will actually have glaucoma, but more and more, we're seeing younger people in their 40s and 50s as well, actually developing glaucoma,” Dr Lui said. 

Ms Workman is part of Dr Hui’s clinical trial, taking Vitamin B3 alongside eye drops twice a day, to help lower the pressure on nerve cells at the back of her eye.

The clinical trials run for six months per patient, and results are expected by the end of the year.

“If we can actually show Vitamin B3 actually is helpful to patients, people can go out to their chemist and tomorrow and buy it off the shelf,” Dr Hui said.

“It's wonderful,” Ms Workman said. 

“I think we're very lucky that we’ve got the clever researchers to find out all these things so we can do as much as possible to prevent vision loss.”

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