UK scientists have shown stem cells can be used to successfully stop glaucoma, an eye disorder, in rats. Stem cells were isolated from bone marrow and successfully grafted onto damaged nerves in the eye. This method stopped and partially reversed progression of the disorder, suggesting stem cell therapies for the treatment of glaucoma in humans may be possible in the future.
'Finding treatments to reverse blindness is no longer in the realm of science fiction. We are doing it in animal models and results are so encouraging that we hope to move forward to testing on humans soon', said Professor Keith Martin of the University of Cambridge and Addenbrooke's Hospital, who is leading the study funded by the UK charity Fight for Sight. 'Stem cell treatment is moving forward very fast in many branches of medicine and we are seeing some of the best results in eyes', he added.
Glaucoma affects approximately 480,000 people in the UK, usually aged over 40 years. The disorder is caused by a blockage of the drainage tubes in the eye, resulting in a build-up of fluid called aqueous humour. This leads to increased pressure within the eye, ultimately causing blindness due to damage of the optic nerve that transmits signals from the eye to the brain. Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the developed world.
Current treatments for glaucoma involve decreasing the pressure within the eye to prevent nerve damage. But in patients with advanced glaucoma, this treatment cannot help reverse the damage already done to the optic nerve. Stem cell treatment may provide a new therapy to repair this damage.
'We hope to use cells from patients, taking samples from blood and bone marrow, and modify them. We can then use these stem cells to protect cells from glaucoma and regenerate ones that have been damaged… However, it will be a few more years until these treatments are ready for human clinical trials', said Professor Martin.