UK’s first research equipment to develop new treatment for glaucoma

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Dr Carl Sheridan, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Eye and Vision Science taking Andy, Neil and Linda from Medicash

St Paul’s Research Foundation, the charity that funds ground-breaking research into curing eye disease and sight loss, has funded a bespoke piece of equipment that will support researchers to develop new treatments for glaucoma.

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 and gets flushed away, maintaining the pressure in the eye. Glaucoma is caused by a build-up of pressure in the eye because the liquid can’t drain away, damaging the optic nerve and causing sight loss.

Using grant money from The Medicash Foundation, our researchers at the Department of Eye and Vision Science at the University of Liverpool have purchased state-of-the-art Human Organ Culture Anterior Segment (HOCUS) equipment which can keep donated 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 not only could the researchers become experts, but the studies will be of a much higher quality and accuracy, potentially skipping out animal testing and going straight into clinical trials. 

Dr Carl Sheridan, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Eye and Vision Science in the Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease said: “Glaucoma is known as the ‘silent thief of sight’ – people often don’t feel anything until their vision starts to fail, which is why creating new treatment is crucial. Being able to do our research on live, human tissue is absolutely huge, as it’s the perfect model and could 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 biological changes.

“The goal is to impact patient care, as there isn’t a drug that 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 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.”

Find out more about St Paul’s Research Foundation and how you can support them in their fight to put a stop to blindness.