Glaucoma Treatment Expected to Improve with New Stem Cell Method

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. Everyone is at risk from the eye disease. Although it is more common in older people, babies can have it too, and in the US, around 1 in every 10,000 babies are born with the condition.

Estimates suggest over 3 million Americans have glaucoma, but only half this number know they have it.

In their study, the team took skin cells from patients with an inherited form of glaucoma and healthy volunteers without the disease and genetically reprogrammed them into pluripotent stem cells.

Pluripotent stem cells are cells in an undifferentiated state; they have the potential to become almost any type of cell in the body.

Model for studying underlying mechanism of glaucoma

The researchers then coaxed the induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to become RGCs. They found the RGCs made from stem cells took on features specific to RGCs, with the ones from the glaucoma patients showing different attributes to the ones from the healthy volunteers.

  • Estimates suggest there could be 60 million people worldwide with glaucoma
  • More than 120,000 Americans are blind from glaucoma
  • Glaucoma vision loss cannot be regained, but with treatment, it is possible to halt further loss.

The team says the method it has developed could serve not only as a tool to model the underlying mechanism of glaucoma, but could also help to discover and test new drugs for the disease.

This is done by adding different compounds to the RGCs generated in culture from the stem cells to see which ones slow down the degeneration process and prevent the cells from dying off.

Prof. Meyer says they have already started studying some promising candidates and suggests, in the future, they may be able to use healthy cells from patients as substitute cells to find a way to replace cells lost to the disease. He concludes:

“Our ability to direct the differentiation of human induced pluripotent stem cells to functional retinal ganglion cells allows for many new and exciting prospects for personalized medicine.”

Meanwhile, ishonest recently learned how a “smart” contact lens could predict risk of glaucoma progression.

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