Can stem cells eliminate a cause for glaucoma?

Research Description

Dr. Yiqin Du is looking for an answer.

Did you ever think that our eyes are similar to a water treatment plant? Both the eye and the plant work with fluids. Both produce, circulate and drain fluids: water in the case of the plant and aqueous fluid in the eye. Both serve bigger systems: communities in the case of the water plant, the human body in the case of the eye.

At the water plant, if the water pressure is too high, we get serious damage to the pipes. If there is too much fluid in the eye, the pressure increases and the optic nerve is damaged. The result is a disease called glaucoma, one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. To avoid this problem, the eye is equipped with its own drainage system, a sponge-like tissue called Trabecular Meshwork. The aqueous fluid, the fluid in the eye, drains through the Trabecular Meshwork into our body’s venous system, thus maintaining the eye pressure within limits.

But what if the Trabecular Meshwork cells, the drainage system does not work properly? How do we avoid pressure from building up and damaging the system? Dr. Du is looking for solutions. She grew stem cells from Trabecular Meshwork in the laboratory. She has been studying the stem cells’ characteristics. She is interested in how these stem cells can start working once injected in our eyes without getting rejected by our bodies.

If we have a problem at the water treatment plant, we call the engineers for help and they work to bring everything back to normal. Wouldn’t it be great if our researchers could do the same for people whose eye drainage system does not work properly and eliminate their risk for glaucoma? Dr. Du is working hard to do just that.

The Trabecular Meshwork (TM) is located in the corner of the cornea and the sclera. It is responsible for the drainage of the aqueous humor to keep the proper intraocular pressure. In glaucoma patients, the number of the TM cells decreases and the function of TM gets damaged. We are working on the stem cells from Trabecular Meshwork and exploring the stem cell-based therapy to repopulate the TM cells and restore the TM function to prevent the vision loss by glaucoma.