Glaucoma is a complex group of interrelated eye conditions that affects over 70 million people worldwide.  A leading cause of irreversible blindness in people over 60, glaucoma is a progressive condition that affects the optic nerve and leads to gradual loss of specific neurons that relay visual information from the retina to the brain; the progressive vision loss caused by glaucoma is often associated with increased pressure in the eyes[1].

Currently, pharmaceutical and surgical treatment for glaucoma focus on relieving pressure in the eye by treating the trabecular meshwork (TM), the part of the eye that relieves pressure by allowing drainage of the aqueous humor. Unfortunately, to date, these treatment options have demonstrated only to delay, not correct, or prevent, the progression of glaucoma. Additionally, these treatment options are not effective in repopulating or regenerating the retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), the neurons that relay visual information to the brain; in other words, these treatments have proven largely ineffective in patients with advanced stages of glaucoma.

With the advances made in stem cell therapy, and especially considering the functional properties of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), several new therapeutic approaches to treating glaucoma-related issues are currently being considered.

In this review article, Harrell et. al drew key observations from the information presented in over 250 journal articles to assess the current knowledge and future perspectives when considering the beneficial effects of MSCs in the treatment of glaucoma.

Specifically, researchers have found that the neurotrophins produced by MSCs encourage both the survival and regeneration of RGCs affected by glaucoma; MSCs appear to support RGCs by generating cells that are similar to RGCs and through promoting the expansion and differentiation of retinal stem cells (RSCs) in RGCs. MSCs are also believed to support the integrity of TM cells, allowing for pressure in the eyes to be reduced.

After reviewing the abstracts of 253 journal articles on the topic, the authors of this review concluded that the large number of studies examining MSCs’ ability to treat and/or protect the eye from the harmful effects of glaucoma was primarily dependent on MSCs capacity to provide neuroprotection for, and support regeneration in, RGCs.

However, as the authors point out, while several of these studies appear to demonstrate the potential benefits of MSCs and their secretome in glaucoma therapy, neither the safety nor efficacy have been validated in clinical settings or clinical trials with the appropriate number of enrolled patients. 

While there appear to be several beneficial effects associated with using MSCs and their secretome in glaucoma therapy in humans, the authors conclude that these claims can only be verified if MSC-dependent therapeutic effects are confirmed through future clinical trials.

Source:  (n.d.). Therapeutic Potential of Mesenchymal Stem Cells and … – Hindawi from https://www.hindawi.com/journals/sci/2019/7869130/


[1] “Glaucoma – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic.” 23 Oct. 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/glaucoma/symptoms-causes/syc-20372839.

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