Novel cell therapy approach to reduce IOP in glaucoma via nitric oxide production

Research details

  • Type of funding: Fight for Sight / Glaucoma UK Small Grant Award
  • Grant Holder: Dr Ester Reina-Torres
  • Institute: Imperial College London
  • Region: London
  • Start date: January 2023
  • End Date: July 2023
  • Priority: Treatment
  • Eye Category: Glaucoma
Brief Lay background

Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness and is characterised by damage to the optic nerve – the nerve that connects the eyes to the brain.

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

In many cases, glaucoma is linked to high pressure within the eye (called intraocular pressure or IOP), which damages the optic nerve and leads to sight loss. 

Primary open angle glaucoma (POAG) is the most common form of the condition. It is caused by a blockage in the eye’s drainage system, which leads to a build-up of fluid and an increase in IOP. But unfortunately, existing medications aren’t always effective at controlling eye pressure – as they don’t target the root cause of the blockage.

Aim of the project

To test the feasibility of a new approach to lower IOP and treat POAG. It involves implanting cells that have been genetically modified to produce nitric oxide (NO) – a molecule that helps to keep the eye’s drainage system free of debris that might clog it up – into the eye.

Key procedures/objectives
  1. Isolate white blood cells from the bone marrow of mice – and manipulate them to specialise into a specific type of immune cell.
  2. Genetically modify these cells in the laboratory so they produce NO.
  3. Introduce modified cells into mouse eyes – and carry out tests to establish whether they reach the drainage system and produce NO.
  4. Evaluate whether eyes with NO-producing cells are better at draining fluid than those with cells that do not make this molecule. 
Potential impact on people with sight loss

This research could ultimately lead to an effective new treatment that can help patients with POAG to maintain healthy eye pressure – helping to prevent further sight loss.