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9th July 2021

Welsh researchers report early signs of vision preservation from stem cells used to treat glaucoma

Researchers funded by Fight for Sight, in partnership with Glaucoma UK and Health and Care Research Wales, have been conducting research into the use of stem cells to prevent sight loss from glaucoma.

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world and Glaucoma Awareness Week (28 June – 2 July) highlights the challenges for the 500,000 people across the UK with the condition.

Researchers at Cardiff University have already demonstrated in the lab vision can be preserved by incorporating bone marrow stem cells that produce packages called ‘exosomes’, which carry proteins and genetic information between cells.

This ongoing study looks to separate these exosome packages to replicate the same benefits of the stem cells, without the need for a cell transplant, which is not only safer, but more effective as higher doses can be used. Work is ongoing comparing the efficacy of different stem cells to determine which should be focused on for development and use across UK hospitals.

Since the start of the study in March 2021, advancements have been made including testing stem cells collected from other connective tissues found in the mouth and beneath the skin, and preparation to begin clinical testing where the researchers will inject microbeads into model glaucoma, and then treat with the exosomes they have been using in the lab.

Dr Ben Mead from the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences at Cardiff University is leading this research. He said: “Even with some delays to this study due to the pandemic, the early signs of this study are extremely positive.

“Our preliminary data suggest that our test exosomes are more effective than the bone marrow exosomes we originally looked into.

“Before consideration can be given to these exosomes as a viable treatment strategy, it is first important to know if the treatment can be improved by isolating them from different stem cells. We have demonstrated that this appears to be the case, and that an already powerful glaucoma treatment is further enhanced by choosing the correct source of stem cells.

“These next few months of research will be extremely enlightening and we are looking forward to further investigation to change the treatment for those with glaucoma and ultimately preserve their vision.”

‘’We’re incredibly grateful for the partnership between ourselves, Glaucoma UK and Health and Care Research Wales and these early results are greatly welcomed. Given the number of people affected by glaucoma here in the UK and around the world, it’s so crucial we invest in research to find sight saving treatments,’’ Ikram Dahman, interim Chief Executive, Fight for Sight

Head of Programmes at Health and Care Research Wales, Michael Bowdery, said: “These preliminary results are extremely encouraging and are another example of the need for ongoing research to improve lives.

“Investment from all the partners has enabled the time and resources to look into brand new treatments for glaucoma as well as enabling the researchers to collaborate with scientists in the US.

“We’re so proud that we’re able to contribute to such life changing research which will not only benefit those with the condition but their support network too, now and in the future.”