Mesenchymal stem cells have strong neuroprotective effect

May 7, 2012

Mesenchymal stem cells seem to have a strong neuroprotective effect in glaucoma, said Keith R. Martin, PhD, who described the work in his laboratory.

Fort Lauderdale, FL-Mesenchymal stem cells seem to have a strong neuroprotective effect in glaucoma, said Keith R. Martin, PhD, who described the work in his laboratory.

Stem cells can be considered for use in glaucoma because retinal ganglion cells die as a result of glaucomatous damage.

“The visual loss in this condition is permanent,” said Dr. Martin, of the Centre for Brain Repair, Cambridge University. “Drugs to lower IOP are one treatment, but some patients continue to lose vision. We need new treatments to reduce progression and improve function.

“The main reason for using mesenchymal stem cells is because the strength of the robust neuroprotective effect of the cells in experimental glaucoma is greater than what can be achieved using other mechanisms,” Dr. Martin said.

Transplantation of mesenchymal cells-which can be obtained from a variety of sources, such as bone marrow-in experimental glaucoma rescued about two-thirds of cells that would have died, he noted. A longer-term study is needed to see if the effect is maintained over time and to determine if there is a protective effect upon delivery of the mesenchymal cells after the initial glaucomatous injury, he added.

Another advantage is that the mesenchymal cells secrete a “complex cocktail” of numerous factors that have been implicated in neuroprotection, but the factors that are the most important remain to be determined.

“Stem cell treatments are coming to the eye,” Dr. Martin said. “Retinal pigment epithelial cell transplantation is currently under way in clinical trials using embryonic stem cell-derived retinal pigment epithelial cells.

“Progress is being made in terms of regeneration of retinal ganglion cells after injury, but they are difficult to replace,” he said. “A neuroprotective approach in the short to medium term is more promising.”

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