News Release
glaucoma

PHILADELPHIA – A popular class of diabetes medications called GLP-1R agonists (Trulicity and Rybelsus) may also protect against glaucoma in diabetic patients, according to a new study led by researchers in the Scheie Eye Institute at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. The findings were published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

The researchers looked at retrospective data of 1,961 diabetic patients who were new users of this class of drugs and matched them to 4,371 unexposed control subjects. After 150 days on average, 10 patients in the medicated group were newly diagnosed with glaucoma (0.5 percent) compared to 58 patients (1.3 percent) in the control group. The findings suggest that GLP-1 receptor agonists may decrease a diabetic patient’s risk of developing glaucoma by half.

The findings are supported by a Penn Medicine study from 2020, which found that GLP-1R agonists reduced neuroinflammation and prevented retinal ganglion cell death in mice. This class of drugs has also shown similarly protective effects against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases in animal models, and clinical trials are underway to test the medications against neurodegenerative diseases in humans.

Glaucoma affects 3 million Americans and is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop the eye condition.

“It was very encouraging to see that a popular diabetes medication could significantly reduce the risk of developing glaucoma, and our study suggests that these medications warrant further study in this patient population,” says Qi N. Cui, MD, PhD, with Brian VanderBeek, MD, MPH, both assistant professors of Ophthalmology at Penn.

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Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $8.9 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $496 million awarded in the 2020 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center—which are recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report—Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Medicine Princeton Health; and Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is powered by a talented and dedicated workforce of more than 44,000 people. The organization also has alliances with top community health systems across both Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, creating more options for patients no matter where they live.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2020, Penn Medicine provided more than $563 million to benefit our community.

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