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Gene Linked To Glaucoma In Blacks

Audio

Aired 9/21/09

Doctors have known for many years that African Americans are more likely to suffer glaucoma. A UC San Diego ophthalmologist has found a genetic clue that may explain why.

— Doctors have known for many years that African Americans are more likely to suffer from glaucoma. A UC San Diego ophthalmologist has found a genetic clue that may explain why.

Glaucoma is a neurodegenerative disease that begins with the loss of peripheral vision and can lead to total blindness. In the U.S., glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African Americans, who are five times more likely to have glaucoma than the general population.

UCSD Professor Kang Zhang investigated glaucoma in a study of black people in Barbados, and he has identified a gene that is very closely linked to the disease. Forty percent of the people with glaucoma had this gene variation, and those with the gene were thirty times more likely to develop the disease.

Zhang said he doesn't know if this gene variation is extremely common among blacks, and there's no evidence it causes glaucoma. However, if people know they have the gene it could lead them to seek treatment to slow the progress of the disease.

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