INDIANAPOLIS -- The five-year, $1.8 million grant is funded by the NIH’s National Eye Institute.
Glaucoma is a group of degenerative diseases that damage the eye's optic nerve and can result in vision loss and blindness. It is the most common disease that affects retinal ganglion cells. These cells serve as the connection between the eye and the brain. Once these cells are damaged or severed, the brain cannot receive critical information, leading to blindness.
Meyer’s research uses human induced pluripotent stem cells, which can be generated from any cell in the body. In this case, they are created from skin cells of patients predisposed to glaucoma. These cells are genetically reprogrammed and then given instructions to develop into cells of the eye’s retina.
“Our hope is that because these cells have the genetic information to develop the disease, they will do so in our lab,” Meyer said. “Hopefully, we can figure out what goes wrong in those cells and then develop new ways to fix that.”
Meyer and two School of Science graduate students are now creating the stem cells and observing their features to determine what isn’t going the way it should. They will determine whether they can identify the cause of damage or death of the retinal ganglion cells.
“This is a five-year award, so our hope is that toward the end of the award we can use the information we gather to start developing customized strategies to fix what’s going wrong,” Meyer said.
He sees this as an exciting approach to stem cell research. Often, stem cells are transplanted to replace cells damaged by disease. While that’s a possibility, Meyer’s research instead could lead to repairing the existing cells in the eye and restoring vision for patients.
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