Researchers examine if bone marrow stem cells could prevent damage caused by glaucoma

11 March 21

written by:

Róisín Treacy

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A man wearing glasses and a wine turtle neck, looking at the camera.

Researchers funded by Fight for Sight, in partnership with Glaucoma UK and Health and Care Research Wales, are hoping to use bone marrow stem cells to prevent sight loss from glaucoma, without a transplant.

The charity is announcing funding for the project during World Glaucoma Awareness Week (March 7-13th).

There are 500,000 people in the UK with glaucoma, and it is the second leading cause of blindness in the world. The retina is a thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye. It is responsible for converting light into neural signals, which are then sent to the brain, allowing us to see. Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) are located near the inner surface of the retina. Glaucoma is characterised by the loss of RGCs and leads to irreversible sight loss.

This project is taking place at Cardiff University. Researchers at the university have already demonstrated in the lab that by transplanting bone marrow stem cells into a glaucoma model, the death of these RGCs can be prevented and vision preserved.

These stem cells produce something called ‘exosomes’, which are packages that carry proteins and genetic information between cells. Now, researchers want to separate these exosome packages to replicate the same benefits of the stem cells, without the need for a transplant.

Dr Ben Mead from the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences at Cardiff University is leading this research. He said: “These bone marrow stem cells act as mini factories, secreting many positive factors which behave as protective agents for retinal ganglion cells. If we can isolate these exosome packages and replicate the same theraputic effects without the need for a transplant, this will not only be a safer approach but it is also more effective as higher doses can be used. We are now working to compare exosomes from different stem cell types to determine which is the most effective and is thus appropriate for clinical testing.”

Chief Executive of Fight for Sight, Sherine Krause, said: “We’re delighted to partner with Health and Care Research Wales and Glaucoma UK to fund this valuable research project. If successful, this research has the potential to help ensure better outcomes for countless people with glaucoma. We look forward to seeing the results of Dr Mead’s study.”

Head of Programmes at Health and Care Research Wales, Michael Bowdery, said: “Glaucoma is a significant problem for a large number of people, so we’re very pleased to be able to work with our partners to fund research that could make such a difference.”

Chief Executive of Glaucoma UK, Karen Osborn, said: “Glaucoma is a complex eye disease. There’s currently no cure and sight lost to glaucoma is irreversible. So we are delighted to partner with Fight For Sight and Health Care Research Wales to fund this important research which examines the possibility of using bone marrow stems cell to prevent damage caused by glaucoma. We eagerly await the results of Dr Ben Mead’s study to see if this could be a viable way to treat glaucoma patients without the need for a transplant. It’s only thanks to the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to fund research like this which could touch the lives of thousands of people living with glaucoma.”

An image of human retinal cells.
An image of human retinal cells treated with exosomes. In red, the retinal ganglion cells can be seen whereas in green, we can see their axons/dendrites regenerating.
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