Promise for regenerating damaged neurons in glaucoma

Early stage trials using growth proteins show potential for regenerating retinal ganglion cells

Promise for regenerating damaged neurons in glaucoma
As World Glaucoma Week was celebrated earlier this month (8–14 March) it was announced that scientists may soon be able to repair nerve cells in the eye damaged by glaucoma, improving the vision of patients.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Glaucoma Society (AGS), in Colorado, earlier this month, Dr Jeffrey Goldberg, University of California, San Diego, revealed early results from breakthrough trials using proteins which promote the growth of nerve cells.

“There may be a window of opportunity to heal these cells before they die,” Dr Goldberg told delegates. The researcher explained how stem cells are being explored as a means of regenerating damaged retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) – either by transplanting them directly into the eye to generate new RGCs, or by using them to produce the proteins, called neurotrophic factors.

Animal studies had shown that the cells can be successfully transplanted, but that reconnecting the ‘tails’ of the cells, known as axons, remains an issue. The approach has now moved to early-stage clinical trials, looking at regenerating neurons in humans, where a small number of patients received an implant which released the proteins.

In a trial of 11 patients with non arteritic ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION), a condition in which the optic disc swells, resulting in vision loss, patients showed a 10 point increase on a Snellen chart, and contrast sensitivity was also reported to be stable. The visual field index and contrast sensitivity declined in the eye without the implant.

The researchers are hopeful that the method could one day help to replace or regenerate the damaged neurons, and restore the link between the brain and the eye.

Dr Goldberg added: “We’re making a lot of progress in getting axons to regenerate back to the brain.”

Image credit: Mike Seyfang