Researchers at the University of California, Berkley, have realized that a drug once commonly used to treat alcoholism might also be useful in improving the sight of individuals with vision disorders.
The drug disulfiram (also known as Antabuse) was first tested on mice when researchers discovered that it disrupts the enzymes involved in the body’s ability to degrade alcohol and the enzymes that make retinoic acid. The mice treated with disulfiram experienced a decrease in the production of retinoic acid, which led to mice that were nearly blind improving drastically in terms of detecting images displayed on a computer screen.
“There may be a long window of opportunity in which suppressing retinoic acid with drugs like disulfiram could substantially improve low vision and make a real difference in people’s quality of life,” stated Richard Kramer, the CH and Annie Li Chair in Molecular Biology of Diseases at UC Berkeley and a member of the campus’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute.
“Because the drug is already FDA-approved, the regulatory hurdles are low. It wouldn’t be a permanent cure, but right now there are no available treatments that even temporarily improve vision.”
The only drawback is that when the drug is combined with alcohol consumption, there are severe side effects like headache, nausea, muscle cramps, and flushing.
Still, the researchers are excited to partner with ophthalmologists to carry out a clinical trial of disulfiram on a small sample of individuals with advanced, but not yet complete, retinal degeneration.