Stem Cell Success in Treating Glaucoma
Feb 1st, 2013
The latest findings from a project funded by the UK Stem Cell Foundation offer new hope to millions affected by glaucoma.
Glaucoma is the most common cause of irreversible blindness in the world today. In the UK, around 1 in 50 people aged over 40 has glaucoma. This rises to around 1 in 10 people over the age of 75. An age-related condition, glaucoma is becoming an increasingly common condition as the population of the UK ages. It is very commonly an insidious, progressive condition that causes damage to the optic nerve, and by the time it is detected some loss of vision has usually occurred. Risk factors for glaucoma are raised pressure in the eye and a weakness in the optic nerve.
Professor Geoff Raisman and his team at University College London in collaboration with Professor Peng Khaw at Moorfields Eye Hospital (UCL NIHR BRC Helen Hamlyn Fight for Sight unit), have undertaken an experimental treatment that potentially means the patient’s own stem cells can be used. By transplanting a small number of olfactory ensheathing cells into the region of the optic nerve, Professor Raisman has been able to halve the loss of optic nerve fibres caused by raised eye pressure and reduce the damage to the optic nerve tissue.
Although there are a number of treatments to halt the progress of glaucoma, such as medication and eye surgery to reduce the pressure in the eye, none currently exist to treat the loss of vision. In a significant proportion of patients, the progression cannot be halted at all.
Professor Raisman said: “Although it is still at the experimental stage, this research raises the possibility that a simple surgical procedure, using the patient’s own cells, may lead to a future method for arresting the devastating effects of glaucoma.”
Professor Khaw said: Every week I see patients whose lives could be transformed if this research could be successfully translated through to full clinical use. The possibility of being able to “cure ourselves” with our own stem cells is exciting. When I tell my patients about the results of this research, it gives them great hope for the future.”
UK Stem Cell Foundation Chief Executive, Lil Shortland said: “We are delighted with the results of this study, which offers real hope to millions whose sight has been damaged by glaucoma. This research now needs to be taken to clinical trial to enable it to become an accessible, safe and approved treatment for patients. We hope that the general public will help us to raise the funding needed to enable this to happen.”
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