Glaucoma is the most common disease that affects or damages the retinal ganglion cells (RGCs)-and can result in vision loss and blindness. The RGCs serve as the connection between the eye and the brain, sending information taken in by the eye to the brain for interpretation.
When these cells are damaged or severed, the brain cannot receive critical information, leading to blindness. Before now, no cure for glaucoma has been discovered but with early detection and treatment, you can often protect your eyes against serious vision loss.
This may no longer be so as some researchers from School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis US, have discovered a way to either prevent the disease or completely cure it.
The US researchers from their study discovered that stem cells derived from human skin cells can be turned into retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), the neurons that conduct visual information from the eye to the brain — to prevent or cure glaucoma.
The investigators did this by taking skin cells biopsied from volunteers with an inherited form of glaucoma and from volunteers without the disease and genetically reprogrammed them to become pluripotent stem cells.
The researchers then directed the stem cells to become RGCs, at which point the cells began adopting features specific to RGCs – features that were different in the cells of individuals with glaucoma than in the cells that came from healthy individuals. These are able to differentiate into any cell type in the body.
The result of the study, which was first published online in the journal Stem Cells, showed that this work has potential implications for treatment of optic-nerve injuries of the types incurred by soldiers in combat or athletes in contact sports.