• Press Release

Mount Sinai Researchers Use Breakthrough Technology to Detect Early-Stage Glaucoma and Disease Progression

  • New York, NY
  • (October 14, 2016)

In a first of its kind study, Mount Sinai researchers are using optimal coherence tomography (OCT) angiography to look at the earliest stages of glaucoma and identify characteristic patterns of different forms of glaucoma based on their vascular patterns. The research could lead doctors to diagnose glaucoma cases earlier than ever before and potentially slow down the progression of vision loss.

OCT angiography is an advanced imaging system that captures the motion of red blood cells in blood vessels non-invasively, as opposed to traditional angiography, which uses dye injections.  Using this technology, a team of scientists from the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai (NYEE) and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have discovered that all glaucoma patients have fewer blood vessels, or less blood flow to the eyes compared to patients without glaucoma. The findings were published in the October 14 issue of IOVS.

Researchers analyzed 92 patients above the age of 50 between April and August 2015.  They divided those patients into three groups based on their condition: primary open-angle glaucoma (high pressure); normal-tension glaucoma (low pressure); and no glaucoma.  They used OCT angiography to look at the blood vessels in each patient, and found those with glaucoma had different patterns of defects in the blood flow in the most superficial layer of the retina depending on the type of glaucoma.

"This is the first time we have been able to identify certain characteristic patterns of blood flow that correspond to different types of glaucoma, which may allow us to identify certain forms of glaucoma in their early stages,” said lead investigator Richard Rosen, MD, Director, Retina Services, NYEE; Research Director, Ophthalmology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “The findings could lead to new therapeutic strategies to avoid progressive damage in glaucoma patients, and provide a new metric for monitoring early damage that eventually leads to vision loss.”

The team of researchers developed new software to analyze the images obtained with OCT angiography.  This software was designed to map the perfused optic nerve capillaries in each eye to reveal the patterns of the blood vessels feeding the optic nerve fiber layer.  They looked at patients with open-angle glaucoma and evaluated how their blood flow distribution differed from patients with normal-tension glaucoma. They then compared the patterns of the blood supply to the patterns of the optic nerve fiber layer loss due to glaucoma. In high-pressure glaucoma the pattern of blood flow loss closely matched the optic nerve fiber loss.  In normal-tension glaucoma cases, the pattern of blood flow loss, while not significantly different from open-angle glaucoma, tended to be more diffuse.  

“Normal-tension glaucoma is often picked up late because it’s not recognized if patients don’t have high pressure, causing them to lose nerve fiber and blood supply before diagnosis,” said James C. Tsai, MD, MBA, Chair, Department of Ophthalmology, Mount Sinai Health System; President, NYEE. “This study points to vascular factors contributing to normal-tension glaucoma and we can use this to help identify ways to detect the disease earlier, and possibly prevent vision loss.”

Further studies will help to refine identification of these characteristic patterns of blood flow that indicate normal-tension glaucoma. Future advancements in technology may also lead to OCT angiography becoming a standardized imaging modality for the diagnosis and management of glaucoma.

Rutgers New Jersey Medical School also contributed to this study.

This research was funded by an unrestricted grant from Research to Prevent Blindness, Inc., additional support was provided by the David E. Marrus Glaucoma Research Fund and the Herman Peters Pediatric Glaucoma Research Fund of NYEE.


About the Mount Sinai Health System

The Mount Sinai Health System is New York City's largest integrated delivery system encompassing (with the addition of South Nassau Communities Hospital) eight hospital campuses, a leading medical school, and a vast network of ambulatory practices throughout the greater New York region. Mount Sinai's vision is to produce the safest care, the highest quality, the highest satisfaction, the best access and the best value of any health system in the nation. The Health System includes approximately 7,480 primary and specialty care physicians; 11 joint-venture ambulatory surgery centers; more than 410 ambulatory practices throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida; and 31 affiliated community health centers. The Icahn School of Medicine is one of three medical schools that have earned distinction by multiple indicators: ranked in the top 20 by U.S. News & World Report's "Best Medical Schools", aligned with a U.S. News & World Report's "Honor Roll" Hospital, No. 12 in the nation for National Institutes of Health funding, and among the top 10 most innovative research institutions as ranked by the journal Nature in its Nature Innovation Index. This reflects a special level of excellence in education, clinical practice, and research. The Mount Sinai Hospital is ranked No. 18 on U.S. News & World Report's "Honor Roll" of top U.S. hospitals; it is one of the nation's top 20 hospitals in Cardiology/Heart Surgery, Gastroenterology/GI Surgery, Geriatrics, Nephrology, and Neurology/Neurosurgery, and in the top 50 in six other specialties in the 2018-2019 "Best Hospitals" issue. Mount Sinai's Kravis Children's Hospital also is ranked nationally in five out of ten pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report. The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai is ranked 11th nationally for Ophthalmology and 44th for Ear, Nose, and Throat. Mount Sinai Beth Israel, Mount Sinai St. Luke's, Mount Sinai West, and South Nassau Communities Hospital are ranked regionally.

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