Science Questions

Sun, 6th Feb 2005

Part of the show Stem Cells & Stem Cell Therapy

Question

Leslie asked:

What's the possibility of getting some repair in the case of damage caused by glaucoma ?

Answer

Glaucoma is a condition that arises when there's too much pressure in eye. Long term pressure damages the optic nerve and consequently impairs sight. The condition is inherited so it is important to get it checked. Glaucoma is very easy to spot and treat by controlling pressure in the eye. Many people compensate and don't even realise they have it.

- Huseyin - This is one of the problems, in an ideal world, that stem cells would be able to rectify. Scientists have used animal models of retinal damage and injected stem cells into the eye of mice with retinal damage. By labelling it with Green Fluorescent Protein, we can find out where they've gone. In many cases cells have been found in the retina, but we don't know if the animals can really see better. All we know is that electrical transmission in the nerves is better. One method used to test whether mice have improved sight is to test one of their natural responses. If mice have a light shone on them, they freeze and stay very still. However, we want to know if the treatment is better than being able to respond to light or dark, although any improvement would be better. Again, it is important to stress that it's very early days for stem cell treatment. The possibility is there, but we have to be realistic. There are already experiments with Parkinson's disease using foetal tissue which have been very successful. China is a big country for stem cell research and they are reporting some success. However, it is still too early to put vast NHS resources into this technology. I would rather invest in the basic building blocks of knowledge and then move up to experimental models. Only after that can we try experiments in humans. We need to be able to reproduce it on a basic level first. I refuse to put a date on it, but I suppose 15 to 20 years might be realistic.

- Roger - The idea is like creating a retinal implant. We think that's many years away. We are trying to apply the knowledge people have of the development of retinal cells in animals and make it work in the petri dish.

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