Study to investigate stem cell therapy as a potential treatment for glaucoma

A doctor checks the eyes of a patient. About 3 million US residents suffer from glaucoma, which can lead to vision loss and blindness by damaging the optic nerve at the back of the eye. (Getty Images)

Oregon Health & Science University is part of a national research project investigating stem cell therapy as a potential treatment for glaucoma, the world’s second leading cause of blindness.

With support from the National Institutes of Health, the project studies human stem cells that are transformed into retinal ganglion cells, neurons involved in sight that are damaged by glaucoma. The research team will transplant the cells into an animal model of glaucoma.

About 3 million US residents suffer from glaucoma, which can lead to vision loss and blindness by damaging the optic nerve at the back of the eye. There is no cure for glaucoma, and the vision loss it causes cannot be restored. Currently, the progression of glaucoma can only be slowed with early treatments involving drug eye drops, lasers, or surgery. Researchers hope that stem cell therapy can stabilize or reverse glaucoma.

Some of the challenges involved in making this potential treatment work include the successful transplantation of the cells, as well as the ability for the transplanted cells to avoid rejection by the immune system and form connections in both the eye and the brain. . The research team will specifically explore ways to make stem cell-derived neurons survive and better integrate into the eye.

A photo by Benjamin Sivyer, Ph.D. (OHSU).  A man in a suit, smiling.

Benjamin Sivyer, Ph.D. (OHSU)

As part of the study, OHSU Casey Eye Institute searcher Benjamin Sivyer, Ph.D., will assess whether cells transplanted in the laboratory respond to light, are transplanted successfully, and form the eye-retina connections necessary for vision.

The research team also includes Jason Meyer, Ph.D., Indiana University, Brad Fortune, DO, Ph.D., from the Legacy Research Institute, Yvonne Ou, MD, the University of California at San Francisco and Gareth Howell, Ph.D., of the Jackson Laboratory.

The National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, is supporting the study. NEI has awarded the project a total of approximately $ 6.7 million over five years, under grant # 1U24EY033269. More information on this and two other new neural studies are in a NEI Announcement.


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