Scientists have used gene therapy to regenerate damaged nerve fibers in the eye, a potential treatment for glaucoma.

Glaucoma is an eye condition that mainly affects people over the age of 45 and is characterized by atrophy of the optic nerve and irreparable impairment of the visual field. Damaged nerve fibers (or axons) do not regenerate, which means that the damage is usually irreversible.

In a new study, published Nov. 5 in the journal Nature Communications, British scientists have used gene therapy to regenerate damaged nerve fibers in the eye. They focused on the gene responsible for the protein Protrudin, which is thought to stimulate the regeneration of nerve cells and protect them from cell death after injury.

First, the team cultured nerve cells in vitro, damaged their nerve fibers with a laser, and observed the response to this injury with a microscope. They found that increasing the amount or activity of the protein Protrudin dramatically increased the ability of damaged cells to regenerate.

The researchers then carried out an experiment using a retina from a mouse eye, which they cultured in vitro. Usually, about half of retinal neurons die within three days of retinal removal, but the researchers found that increasing or activating Protrudin led to almost complete protection of retinal neurons.

“Glaucoma is one of the main causes of blindness in the world. The causes of glaucoma are not fully understood, but the current focus is on identifying new treatments that prevent nerve cells in the retina from dying, as well as on remedying vision loss by regenerating the cells. diseased axons in the optic nerve, ”summarized Dr. Veselina Petrova, a researcher in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge, and first author of the study.

Noting that this gene therapy technique could potentially be applied to brain or spinal cord injuries, the researchers say, however, that this approach will need further research to lead to effective treatments in humans.