NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – There’s potentially good news for the 12,000 people a year who suffer a stroke – not in the brain, but in the eye.

As CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported, an eye stroke causes vision loss and even permanent blindness. But an experimental drug may be the first effective treatment for the devastating problem.

Jeff Markowitz hopes to regain the vision he lost.

“I noticed a shadow on my right eye,” he said.

He suffered what doctors say is essentially a stroke in the eye, which happens when blood vessels supplying nutrients and oxygen to the optical nerve and retina get blocked for unknown reasons. It causes a sudden, painless loss of vision and sometimes blindness.

“By the time I saw the doc, it was kind of like a cloud,” said Markowitz.

With no effective treatments available, he enrolled in a clinical trial at Mount Sinai’s New York Eye and Ear Infirmary testing a new experimental drug that’s actually a synthetic genetic molecule.

“We believe that this molecule has the ability to stop the cascade of events which leads to cell death, actually preserve vision, and possibly restore some of the vision that’s been lost,” said Dr. Rudrani Banik, associate professor of ophthalmology.

The drug called QPI-1007 is injected into the eye three times over six months. It blocks an enzyme that promotes cell death in the optic nerve.

Banik said it’s critical to start treatment within two weeks of symptoms.

“We think there is a window of time in which we should get the drug to the patient,” she said.

Markowitz doesn’t know yet if he’s getting the actual drug or a placebo, since the study is ongoing. But so far, he says he is seeing better.

“Over the next year, it will take a while to see where I end up and what my vision will be for the rest of my life,” he said.

Risk factors for eye stroke include diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking and sleep apnea. Whether it’s an eye stroke or another cause, if you suffer any vision loss, see a doctor immediately.

Clinical trials for the drug aren’t expected to be complete for another year or two, but it has orphan drug status from the FDA, which can mean a sped up approval process.

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