A world-first clinical trial has been launched in Melbourne to test the use of vitamin B3 as a treatment to prevent eye disease glaucoma.
Researchers are hoping a simple vitamin B3 supplement could one day be used to treat glaucoma, one of the biggest causes of irreversible vision loss.
In a world-first human trial, researchers at the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) in Melbourne will treat patients with the disease of the optic nerve with high-dose of nicotinamide, otherwise known as vitamin B3.
Dr Flora Hui, the research fellow conducting the six-month trial, says they believe supplementing patients with B3 will work a bit like topping up a car engine with oil to improve function.
"Our study hopes to confirm that vitamin B3 can protect nerve cells from dying, in a similar way that adding oil to a faulty car engine can still allow it to run more smoothly," Dr Hui said.
Glaucoma is linked to a build-up of pressure inside the eye and is often inherited. The increased pressure, called intraocular pressure, can damage the optic nerve, which transmits images to your brain.
If the damage continues, glaucoma can lead to permanent vision loss.
In 2017, US research from the JAX laboratories found that vitamin B3 given to glaucoma-prone mice prevented optic nerve degeneration and glaucoma. In fact, the treatment reversed the negative effects of ageing in the eyes of the mice.
Professor Jonathan Crowston, CERA managing director, says it's thought the vitamin works to prevent glaucoma by reversing injury to the eye.
"We have recently discovered that in the early stages after an injury, visual function can in fact recover, but that the ability to recover diminishes with increasing age," Prof Crowston said.
"Our premise is that if you can improve optic nerve recovery after an injury that we can reduce the risk of glaucoma progressing."
People interested in participating in the trial can register as a volunteer by visiting the Clinical Trial Registries website.