University of Iowa researchers have landed a $3.6 million federal grant to study glaucoma, a disease that can permanently rob people of their vision. Dr. John Fingert, an ophthalmology professor at the U-of-I, is the study’s principal investigator.

"In America, it’s the second most common cause of blindness," Fingert says. "It’s the leading cause of blindness among African Americans. It’s also a common cause of vision disability. Many people aren’t considered blind but have lost significant vision." Glaucoma targets the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain.

Fingert says the team will be working to identify how the disease is passed from parent to child. "We’re interested in identifying genetic risk factors for glaucoma," Fingert says. "We’re looking for the genes that may predispose some people to be at higher risk for getting this vision problem than others."

While researchers can measure signs of glaucoma, like damage to the optic nerve and vision loss, he says the events that lead to glaucoma aren’t yet well known. That’s hindering efforts for early detection and treatment. Part of the research will involve people who took part in a large glaucoma treatment trial, called the Ocular Hypertension Treatment Study. He says another part will involve mice.

Fingert says, "One of my close collaborators, Dr. Michael Anderson, is a professor in physiology and he’s an expert in mouse genetics and he’s going to be doing parallel experiments using studies of inbred mice." This project also will involve U-of-I researchers in molecular physiology, biophysics, statistics and actuarial sciences, biostatics and biomedical engineering.

The five-year grant for the U-of-I research is from the National Institutes of Health.