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Stem cell therapy emerges as potential glaucoma treatment

November 04, 2021

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National Eye Institute awards $6.7M total to the national research project

Legacy Devers Eye Institute is leading a national research project investigating stem cell therapy as a potential treatment for glaucoma, the world’s second leading cause of blindness. Legacy’s Brad Fortune, O.D., Ph.D., and a multidisciplinary team of investigators were awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study human stem cells that will be converted into retinal ganglion cells, the neurons involved in sight that are damaged by glaucoma.

Legacy researchers will transplant these cells into the eye and measure their ability to avoid rejection by the immune system and form connections from the eye to the brain. The research team will then explore ways to make stem cell-derived neurons survive and integrate better into the eye.

About 3 million U.S. residents have glaucoma, which can cause vision loss and blindness by damaging the optic nerve in the back of the eye. There is no cure for glaucoma, and the vision loss it causes can’t be restored. Currently, the only treatments to slow glaucoma’s progression is medicated eye drops, lasers, or surgery. Researchers hope stem cell therapy can stabilize or reverse glaucoma.

As part of the study, Dr. Fortune will evaluate whether the transplanted cells respond to light, are successfully transplanted, and form the eye-retina connections needed for vision. The group includes Dr. Aris Thanos, and Stuart Gardiner, Ph.D., with the Legacy Research Institute and Dr. Thomas Batiuk, with Legacy Medical Group.

The multidisciplinary team includes researchers from OHSU, Indiana University, University of California San Francisco, and The Jackson Laboratory.

The National Eye Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, supports the study. The NEI has awarded the project about $6.7 million over five years under grant #1U24EY033269. More information about this and two other new neuron studies are in an NEI announcement.

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