: Primary open angle glaucoma (POAG) is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States. This disease is strongly age-related and affects approximately 1.9% of the US population 40 years or older and is highly prevalent in veterans. The development of elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) is closely associated with the development of glaucoma and results from increased resistance to aqueous humor outflow through the trabecular meshwork (TM). To date, there is no cure for glaucoma. Vision loss is permanent and while elevated IOP can be managed through medical or surgical means, it does not resolve permanently. Current medical treatment requires daily or twice daily application of one or more eye drops for the remainder of a patient's life. Despite the importance of maintaining a well-controlled IOP, patient compliance is poor, resulting in lack of IOP control and progressive vision loss. Elderly patients, in particuar, suffer from involuntary non-compliance due to the difficulty of applying the drops to their eyes. Lack of compliance is a major challenge in the clinical management of the disease and consequently the development of treatment modalities that lead to permanent, reliable IOP control is highly desirable. The overall goal of this project is to develop new approaches to restore healthy IOP in patients with glaucoma. Specifically we propose to evaluate whether replacement of damaged or lost trabecular meshwork (TM) cells with stem cell derived TM like cells can induce functional restoration following transplantation into glaucoma eyes. We hypothesize that replacement of lost or damaged TM cells with healthy cells can preserve or restore aqueous humor outflow facility, decrease IOP, and thus preserve vision. The source of these cells is, of course, crucial. A patient's native TM cells are difficult to obtain and may additionally be functionally compromised due to the effects of age-related stresses. We propose that the use of TM-like cells derived from induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC-TM), which can be created from the patient's own dermal fibroblasts, obtained from a skin biopsy, offers the best solution to this challenge. In order to test our hypothesis we will induce iPSC to differentiate ito iPSC-TM and test them functionally in an ocular perfusion organ culture system. Human donor eyes will receive a transplantation of iPSC-TM and will be monitored for up to three weeks for integration of stem cells into the TM, changes in the eye's outflow capacity, and changes in the TM extracellular matrix. We will also test our hypothesis using a new mouse model of glaucoma which was recently developed by the P.I. and his collaborators. These mice, which develop elevated IOP due to a transgene expressing a pathogenic mutation myocilin, are uniquely suited for these studies because damage to the structure of their TM is mild even though TM cells become dysfunctional. This unique and novel approach could provide effective, permanent, vision saving treatment for veterans with POAG as well as other types of glaucoma, such as exfoliation glaucoma. Upon completion of these studies we expect to have obtained conclusive data to determine if TM regeneration using stem cell derived TM-like cells is an effective and safe approach that could be used to treat patients with glaucoma. We expect that the proposed study will point out novel treatment approaches for the prevention of vision loss in veterans who suffer from glaucoma that is difficult to manage or who face challenges preventing consistent use of IOP lowering medications.

Public Health Relevance

Glaucoma is a common disease of the eye that decreases vision and can lead to blindness. It particularly affects older persons, including approximately 285,000 Veterans. Elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) is a major risk factor for the development of glaucoma and lowering IOP is currently the only known treatment for the disease. Life-long daily eye drops is the current medical standard of care, but patient compliance is often poor and older persons have additional difficulties applying the drops to their eyes. The VA spends a significant - and increasing- portion of its medical care funds toward treatment of vision loss, requiring approximately five million visits per year. We propose to use induced pluripotent stem cells to regenerate the trabecular meshwork, the site of IOP regulation. Cells can be created from skin samples obtained from the patient, avoiding both ethical and immune rejection concerns. Successful trabecular meshwork restoration would permanently restore IOP control and thereby reduce costs related to the management of this disease.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Veterans Affairs (VA)
Non-HHS Research Projects (I01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Spinal Cord Injury & Regenerative Medicine (RRD0)
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Iowa City VA Medical Center
Iowa City
United States
Zip Code
Keller, Kate E; Bhattacharya, Sanjoy K; BorrĂ¡s, Theresa et al. (2018) Consensus recommendations for trabecular meshwork cell isolation, characterization and culture. Exp Eye Res 171:164-173
Zhu, Wei; Jain, Ankur; Gramlich, Oliver W et al. (2017) Restoration of Aqueous Humor Outflow Following Transplantation of iPSC-Derived Trabecular Meshwork Cells in a Transgenic Mouse Model of Glaucoma. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 58:2054-2062
Muenster, Stefan; Lieb, Wolfgang S; Fabry, Gregor et al. (2017) The Ability of Nitric Oxide to Lower Intraocular Pressure Is Dependent on Guanylyl Cyclase. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 58:4826-4835
Gramlich, Oliver W; Burand, Anthony J; Brown, Alex J et al. (2016) Cryopreserved Mesenchymal Stromal Cells Maintain Potency in a Retinal Ischemia/Reperfusion Injury Model: Toward an off-the-shelf Therapy. Sci Rep 6:26463
Zhu, Wei; Gramlich, Oliver W; Laboissonniere, Lauren et al. (2016) Transplantation of iPSC-derived TM cells rescues glaucoma phenotypes in vivo. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 113:E3492-500
Sohn, Elliott H; van Dijk, Hille W; Jiao, Chunhua et al. (2016) Retinal neurodegeneration may precede microvascular changes characteristic of diabetic retinopathy in diabetes mellitus. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 113:E2655-64
Gramlich, Oliver W; Ding, Qiong J; Zhu, Wei et al. (2015) Adoptive transfer of immune cells from glaucomatous mice provokes retinal ganglion cell loss in recipients. Acta Neuropathol Commun 3:56
Ding, Qiong J; Zhu, Wei; Cook, Amy C et al. (2014) Induction of trabecular meshwork cells from induced pluripotent stem cells. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 55:7065-72
Kuehn, Markus H (2014) Immune phenomena in glaucoma and conformational disorders: why is the second eye not involved? J Glaucoma 23:S59-61