Stem cell therapy is an extremely promising area of study, especially in the medical field. Today, there's renewed hope in the eye care community that a new form of stem cell therapy might be able to restore sight to those with late stage glaucoma.
The specific stem cells used in this study were taken from bone marrow and are officially known as mesenchymal stem cells (BMSCs). Dr. Ben Mead and Dr. Stanislav Tomarev of the National Institutes of Health led a group of researchers in Bethesda, Maryland.
Both doctors took out exosomes from these MBSCs and then put them into the optic nerve crush (ONC) of various rats with eye conditions. Researchers then observed the effect this stem cell therapy had on the RGC counts in retinal cultures taken from the rats.
Intravitreal exosome injections were given to the rats on a weekly basis over a 21-day testing period. Doctors also performed tests such as an electroretinography, an immunohistochemistry, and an optical coherence tomography after the 21 days were up.
What the researchers discovered was nothing short of miraculous. All the tests from the retinal cultures showed huge improvements in terms of neuroprotective effects. Researchers also found that the BMSC-derived exosomes promoted the growth of new axons and helped reduce RGC axonal loss.
Both authors noted that their study represents a breakthrough in the field of RGC treatment. They told reporters that this test "supports the use of BMSC-derived exosomes as a cell-free therapy for traumatic and degenerative ocular disease."
Glaucoma is the most common eye disease directly related to RGC-loss, and it often leads to complete blindness in older patients. Unfortunately, most people with glaucoma don't realize they are losing these important cells until it's too late. RGCs die slowly in glaucoma patients, and the symptoms of blurry vision only appear when thousands of RGCs have died. Once the RGCs have died, they cannot be revived with current treatment methods.
Everyone should get eye exams every year to detect glaucoma and other eye diseases as early as possible. Even if a person's eyes feel fine, that doesn't mean glaucoma can't already be present.
If glaucoma is caught in time, the effects of the disease can be minimized with eye drops, medications, and surgical procedures.
These two doctors hope their study will inspire other doctors to develop new studies on this important issue. Neither doctor said any plans for testing BMSC-derived exosomes on human subjects had been scheduled.
This particular study was published in the January 26th edition of Stem Cells Translational Medicine. The official study was entitled "Bone Marrow-Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells-Derived Exosomes Promote Survival of Retinal Ganglion Cells Through miRNA-Dependent Mechanisms."