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New Treatment For Glaucoma Shows Promise In Laboratory

August 3, 2007

Adapted from Iowa State University

Iowa State University researchers have developed a new technique that successfully treated rats for blindness caused by glaucoma. Their experimental treatment will be used on canine patients in the next year. If successful, it is expected to move to human trials.

Iowa State researchers leading the six-year project are Dr. Sinisa Grozdanic, a veterinary ophthalmologist and assistant professor of veterinary clinical sciences; Donald Sakaguchi, neuroscientist and associate professor of genetics, development and cell biology; and Matt Harper, doctoral student in neuroscience. The team also included researchers from the University of Iowa, Yale University, Tulane University and the University of Miami. The work was presented at a recent meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology Conference.

The researchers previously determined that animals with glaucoma increase production of proteins with neuron-protective capabilities (neurotrophins) in an attempt to shield against blindness. So, they imitated that process in the laboratory, modifying bone marrow-derived stem cells. Then they transplanted the cells into the eyes.

"Once we realized the nature of these self-protective mechanisms, we just tried to mimic the same thing exactly," Grozdanic said. "We used bone-derived stem cells from the patient, modified them to produce the neurotrophin and injected these cells into glaucomatous eyes."

A sophisticated computerized analysis of optic nerve function and the retina's electrical activity showed dramatic improvement in the rats' visual functions after the procedure.

"One of the really unique aspects of this approach is that we can isolate these stem cells from the same individual being treated," Sakaguchi said. "It eliminates the ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cells, and the immunological problems of graft rejection."

Grozdanic said the "results were phenomenal." So, the Iowa State team intends to use the technique on dogs as soon as possible.

"Dogs suffer many of the same diseases people do and there's a lot of physiological similarity in their eyes and ours," Grozdanic said.

An estimated 3 million people in the U. S. are affected by glaucoma, the second leading cause of blindness in the developed world and the number one cause of vision loss among blacks. People with elevated intraocular pressure are at greatest risk for developing glaucoma.

View all news updates for glaucoma

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Some of the content in this section is adapted from other sources, which are clearly identified within each individual item of information.

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