Stem Cells to Improve Glaucoma Treatment
Personalized medicine doesn’t get much more personal than using a patient’s own stem cells to help cure that patient’s condition.
Researchers were out to improve glaucoma treatments (and open prospects for personalized medicine), and they succeeded in this test. As reported in the journal Stem Cells, they were able to make retinal ganglion cells from stem cells derived from human skin cells. Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) are nerve cells that carry visual signals from the eye to the brain.
Glaucoma is a condition where pressure builds up inside the eye. It’s the most common affliction that affects RGCs. If left untreated, it can damage the optic nerve and lead to vision loss and blindness.
The researchers say the stem cell method they have developed will help to study the underlying mechanism of glaucoma.
The team took skin cells from patients with an inherited form of glaucoma and from 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.
They found that skin cells from people with glaucoma are no different from skin cells of people without the disease, but when the team turned glaucoma patients' skin cells into stem cells and then into RGCs, the cells became unhealthy and started dying off at a much faster rate than those of healthy individuals.
In the future, it may be possible to use healthy cells from patients as substitute cells to find a way to replace cells lost to glaucoma. The study could also help develop new treatments for optic nerve injuries, such as those incurred by soldiers and athletes.