Welsh researchers examine if bone marrow stem cells could prevent damage caused by glaucoma


Researchers at Cardiff University funded by Fight for Sight, in partnership with Glaucoma UK and Health and Care Research Wales, are hoping to use bone marrow stem cells to prevent sight loss from glaucoma, without a transplant.

There are 500,000 people in the UK with glaucoma, and it is the second leading cause of blindness in the world. The retina is a thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye. It is responsible for converting light into neural signals, which are then sent to the brain, allowing us to see. Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) are located near the inner surface of the retina. Glaucoma is characterised by the loss of RGCs and leads to irreversible sight loss.

Researchers at Cardiff University have already demonstrated in the lab that by transplanting bone marrow stem cells into a glaucoma model, the death of these RGCs can be prevented and vision preserved.

These stem cells produce something called ‘exosomes’, which are packages that carry proteins and genetic information between cells. Now, researchers want to separate these exosome packages to replicate the same benefits of the stem cells, without the need for a transplant.



Dr Ben Mead from the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences at Cardiff University is leading this research. He said: “These bone marrow stem cells act as mini factories, secreting many positive factors which behave as protective agents for retinal ganglion cells. If we can isolate these exosome packages and replicate the same theraputic effects without the need for a transplant, this will not only be a safer approach but it is also more effective as higher doses can be used. We are now working to compare exosomes from different stem cell types to determine which is the most effective and is thus appropriate for clinical testing.”


Chief Executive of Glaucoma UK, Karen Osborn, said: “Glaucoma is a complex eye disease. There’s currently no cure and sight lost to glaucoma is irreversible. So we are delighted to partner with Fight For Sight and Health Care Research Wales to fund this important research which examines the possibility of using bone marrow stems cell to prevent damage caused by glaucoma. We eagerly await the results of Dr Ben Mead’s study to see if this could be a viable way to treat glaucoma patients without the need for a transplant. It’s only thanks to the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to fund research like this which could touch the lives of thousands of people living with glaucoma.”



In addition to the above – here are  tips from Fight For Sight to maintain good eye care! 

Tip 1: Have your eyes tested every two years even if you think your vision is fine. An eye test can spot some eye conditions and other illnesses not related to sight. Regular check-ups are vital even if you have no symptoms. Opticians have remained open for appointments during lockdown.

Tip 2: If you find your screen time has increased as a result of  the pandemic, try to adopt the ’20-20-20’ rule which recommends that for every 20 minutes spent using a screen, you should try to look away at something that is 20 feet away from you for a total of 20 seconds. Following the rule should reduce eye strain caused by looking at screens for too long.

Tip 3: Wear safety glasses or protective goggles to protect your eyes from injury if you are doing DIY, gardening or setting off fireworks.

Tip 4: Being fit and well can help your eyes stay healthy. Maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure may help with eye health. Protect your eyes when playing sports involving flying balls.

Tip 5: Make sure your diet includes nutrients such as Omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and vitamins C and E. These may help to slow progress of age-related vision problems such as macular degeneration. Recommended foods for general good health include green leafy vegetables, oily fish such as salmon and citrus fruits.

For more information visit: www.fightforsight.org.uk