The role of mitochondrial dysfunction in healthy ageing within the eye

Research details

  • Type of funding: RCOphth / Fight for Sight Zakarian Award
  • Grant Holder: Dr Abdus Samad Ansari
  • Institute: King's College London
  • Region: London
  • Start date: November 2022
  • End Date: October 2023
  • Priority: Understanding
  • Eye Category: Glaucoma
Brief Lay background

Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness and is characterised by damage to the optic nerve – which connects the eyes to the brain. It is a small group of similar sight loss conditions and has two major risk factors – elevated eye pressure, and older age.

Around 80 million people across the globe have glaucoma – and with the ageing population, this number is projected to increase to 120 million by 2040.

What problem/knowledge gap does it help address

Mitochondria are the tiny powerhouses inside our cells. Changes in the number or function of these compartments are linked with the ageing process – and are also implicated in the development of certain age-related diseases, including glaucoma and dementia.

Most previous research has looked to confirm changes to mitochondria in people who already have a condition. But there has been a lack of studies looking at healthy people – to understand how mitochondrial function may contribute to the development of age-related diseases.

Aim of the project

To explore genetic and environmental factors that influence the relationships between mitochondrial function and various ageing characteristics – including eye function, thinking and memory skills.

Key procedures/objectives

The researchers will recruit 120 pairs of twins (60 identical and 60 non-identical) and perform a series of tests – including mitochondrial function, eye measurements (such as imaging scans and measuring eye pressure) and assessments of their thinking and memory skills. They will then analyse these data to: 

  1. Determine the heritability of mitochondrial function (i.e. the proportion that can be attributed to inherited genetic factors) – and the effects of ageing and other environmental factors.
  2. Explore relationships between mitochondrial function and the health of the optic nerve.
  3. Generate preliminary data about the role of mitochondrial function in other ageing characteristics – including memory and thinking skills, frailty and cardiovascular health. 
Potential impact on people with sight loss

Ultimately, this research could lead to new ways to identify people at risk of developing future health conditions including glaucoma and dementia – as well as provide opportunities to try and prevent or delay the onset of symptoms.