Researchers led by Markus Kuehn from University of Iowa in the US injected stem cells into the eyes of mice with glaucoma.
The influx of cells regenerated the tiny, delicate patch of tissue known as the trabecular meshwork, which serves as a drain for the eyes to avoid fluid buildup.
When fluid accumulates in the eye, the increase in pressure could lead to glaucoma.
The disease damages the optic nerve and can result in blindness.
Researchers found that an infusion of stem cells could help restore proper drainage for fluid-clogged eyes at risk for glaucoma.
“We believe that replacement of damaged or lost trabecular meshwork cells with healthy cells can lead to functional restoration following transplantation into glaucoma eyes,” said Kuehn.
One potential advantage of the approach is that the type of stem cells used – called induced pluripotent stem cells – could be created from cells harvested from a patient’s own skin.
That gets around the ethical dilemma of using foetal stem cells, and it also lessens the chance of the patient’s body rejecting the transplanted cells.
Researchers were able to get the stem cells to grow into cells like those of the trabecular meshwork by culturing them in a solution that had previously been “conditioned” by actual human trabecular meshwork cells.
They saw that the stem cell injection led to a proliferation of new endogenous cells within the trabecular meshwork.
In other words, it appeared the stem cells not only survived on their own, but coaxed the body into making more of its own cells within the eye, thus multiplying the therapeutic effect.
Researchers measured the effects in the mice nine weeks after the transplant.
Lab mice generally live only two or three years, and nine weeks is roughly equal to about five or six years for humans.
The findings hold promise for the most common form of glaucoma, known as primary open angle glaucoma, researchers said.
The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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