Stem Cell Secretions May Protect Against Glaucoma
A new study in rats shows that stem cell secretions, called exosomes, appear to protect cells in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye. The findings, published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine, point to potential therapies for glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness in the U.S. The study was conducted by NEI researchers.
Exosomes are tiny membrane-enclosed packages that form inside of cells before getting expelled. Long thought of as part of a cellular disposal system, exosomes are packed, scientists have recently discovered, with proteins, lipids and gene-regulating RNA. Studies have shown that exosomes from one cell can be taken up by another by fusing with the target cell’s membrane, spurring it to make new proteins. Exosomes also facilitate cell-to-cell interactions and play a signaling role, prompting research into their potential therapeutic effect.
In his study, NEI postdoctoral fellow Dr. Ben Mead investigated the role of stem cell exosomes on retinal ganglion cells, a type of retinal cell that forms the optic nerve that carries visual information from the eye to the brain. The death of retinal ganglion cells leads to vision loss in glaucoma and other optic neuropathies.
Stem cells have been the focus of therapeutic attempts to replace or repair tissues because of their ability to morph into any type of cell in the body. However, from a practical standpoint, using exosomes isolated from stem cells presents key advantages over transplanting whole stem cells.
“Exosomes can be purified, stored and precisely dosed in ways that stem cells cannot,” Mead said.
Another important advantage of exosomes is they lack the risks associated with transplanting live stem cells into the eye, which can potentially lead to complications such as immune rejection and unwanted cell growth.