Vision restoration in glaucoma

A donor’s gift accelerates translation from lab to clinic

Laura Dubrow

Laura Dubrow has approached the challenges of life-long glaucoma in both eyes with courage, determination, and a sense of humor. Glaucoma is the result of damage to the optic nerve, which over time may lead to vision loss and blindness. It is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the world, impacting millions of people globally and in the United States. Recognizing that there is currently no cure for glaucoma or a way to restore vision once lost, Laura decided to support cutting-edge research at the Byers Eye Institute at Stanford to better understand the cause of, and ultimately prevent and treat glaucoma.

Seeking new research

Laura has always been a proponent of challenging the status quo and has always viewed science as a means to achieve progress. In the early 1960s, when it was rare to see many women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, Laura majored in mathematics at her college in Albany, New York, and was recruited to work for General Electric on the second atomic submarine. Until the age of 39, she had excellent vision, but that year during a routine eye exam, she was first diagnosed with glaucoma – this was the start of her journey.

In the decades since that initial diagnosis, Laura has seen significant changes in the therapies and tests for glaucoma. She has tested different medications, undergone surgeries, and even supported medical research by personally participating in experimental studies. For one treatment, she had to take eye drops every hour, and she still remembers carrying a small timer in her purse which would go off unexpectedly and startle everyone around her.

“Once I ran into another participant from that study at the post office shortly before the Christmas holidays, so it was jammed packed with people,” Laura said. “She was carrying around a kitchen timer to remind her of her eye drops. Her alarm started to go off followed by mine while we were waiting in line. All the other people moved away from us.”

Early on, the disease did not affect her vision dramatically, but as she got older she experienced significant deterioration in her vision. Her optic nerve continued to degenerate, particularly in her left eye.

After moving to the Bay Area about five years ago, she joined a community support group for individuals with vision problems. There she first learned of the research efforts of Jeffrey Goldberg, MD, PhD, Blumenkranz Smead professor and chair of ophthalmology. She was particularly interested in his first-of-their-kind clinical trials in the U.S. using neurotrophic factors to preserve vision in glaucoma patients.

“It’s so important to keep researching,” Laura said, “There is so much to learn yet. That’s why I’m eager to support Dr. Goldberg’s research, because I would love to see him be able to stop glaucoma for other people before they get to the stage I’m in.”

Supporting future generations

Glaucoma has a long history in Laura’s family, spanning at least three generations. Both of her grandmothers, her mother, her brother, an aunt, and two of her cousins were also diagnosed with glaucoma. With so many family members and friends who have been affected by this disease, Laura unfortunately knows all too well the terrible consequences that glaucoma can have on a person’s vision. With glaucoma’s hereditary nature, she worries for the future of her grandchildren’s vision as well.

“I don’t want my grandchildren, or anybody else, to suffer from glaucoma the way I do,” Laura said. “But I know from seeing the research Dr. Goldberg is pursuing, especially his research on retinal ganglion cells relating to vision restoration, there is hope for future glaucoma patients.”