Promoting RGC survival and optic nerve regeneration by enhancing the axon transport of growth and survival receptors

Research details

  • Type of funding: PhD Studentship
  • Grant Holder: Professor Keith Martin
  • Institute: University of Cambridge
  • Region: East of England
  • Start date: January 2019
  • End Date: September 2022
  • Priority: Treatment
  • Eye Category: Glaucoma
Retina ganglion cells (RGCs) relay visual information to the brain via the optic nerve. RGCs are vulnerable to injury, and do not regenerate. Injury or diseases such as glaucoma damage these cells, which leads to blindness.

Glaucoma affects more than 70 million people. Over 10% of these patients become blind despite the latest treatments. Yet, less than 10% of nerve fibres (axons) are sufficient to maintain central vision. Restoring or protecting this small proportion of cells could be the difference between preserving some vision and blindness.

This proposal builds upon a collaboration between optic nerve researchers and neuroscientists that have pioneered a method to achieve unprecedented repair of sensory pathways in the spinal cord to adapt it within the optic setting.

The aim is to protect the optic nerve, in particular the RGCs from damage. Ultimately, regeneration of the optic nerves may be able to restore vision to those blinded by optic nerve disease and eventually make eye transplants possible. The researchers will use integrins (molecules that can steer regeneration) and their transporters to protect RGCs and to stimulate the orderly regrowth of injured axons.

The long-term goal is to develop successful therapies for progressive diseases like glaucoma, protecting RGCs from damage, and allowing injured axons to regenerate. This new method aims to achieve orderly and efficient optic nerve regeneration. This translatable approach can help to restore vision after optic nerve damage, and could eventually be a key technology necessary for eye transplants to theoretically be possible.