The problem: Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness and often when the symptoms start, the damage is irreversible. Like other parts of the body, eyes need nutrients, which are carried to the cells in a clear liquid which continuously drains away. This helps maintain pressure in the eye, but in diseases such as glaucoma, pressure builds up in the eye because the liquid can’t drain away, damaging the optic nerve and causing irreversible sight loss.
Our solution: Using grant money from The Medicash Foundation, researchers at the Department of Eye and Vision Science at the University of Liverpool have been able to build state-of-the-art Human Organ Culture Anterior Segment (HOCAS) equipment which can keep donated parts of human eyes alive for several weeks. This equipment is the first of its kind in the UK and will give researchers the rare opportunity to study the biology of the cells in eye when testing cell transplants to treat glaucoma.
Costing £24,000, this new equipment has been purpose built specifically for the Department of Eye and Vision Science and is the only model in the UK that will keep human eye tissue alive. It can run four eyes at a time and gives researchers the opportunity to test their studies on a human, living eye. This means that research will be of a much higher quality and accuracy, drastically reducing animal testing and fast tracking clinical trials.
Glaucoma is known as the ‘silent thief of sight’ – people often don’t feel anything until their vision starts to fail, which is why getting your eyes tested regularly is crucial. New treatments are desperately needed and being able to do our research on live, human tissue is absolutely huge. By using better models which not only help to reduce animal testing it’s a safer proof of principal before moving onto patients.
Through our regenerative medicine approach, we’re looking at a new angle of cell-based treatments, trying to create a new way of transplanting cells that do the draining in the eye and keep the pressure at a normal level and tracking the key biological changes. The goal is to impact patient care, as there isn’t a drug that specifically targets these cells and clinicians are desperate for new treatments. It’s a novel approach and by understanding the biology we might be able to stop cell loss or create new cell-based therapies for patients.
We will be able to answer a lot of our questions by using human tissues. Without the Liverpool Research Eye Bank, our facility that gathers human eye tissue for research, we simply wouldn’t be able to do this cutting-edge research, which underpins the fact that eye donation is so important.