New method of repairing damage to optic nerve offers hope for people with glaucoma-related sight loss

Fight for Sight funded researchers have successfully demonstrated a new method of repairing damage to the optic nerve in the lab for the first time, in new research that hopes to restore vision to those who’ve lost it as a result of glaucoma and other conditions.

New method of repairing damage to optic nerve offers hope for people with glaucoma-related sight loss
Image shows Professor Keith Martin in scrubs

The study, which was published in Nature Communications this month, saw researchers funded by eye research charity Fight for Sight based at University of Cambridge collaborate with colleagues in Australia. The team were investigating if the gene responsible for the production of a protein known as protrudin, a so-called ‘scaffolding molecule’, could help prevent or even repair damage to retinal cells caused by glaucoma.

Researchers, led by Professor Keith Martin, Dr Richard Eva, Dr Veselina Petrova and Professor James Fawcett, used a cell culture system to grow brain cells in a dish. They then used a laser to injure the cells’ nerve fibers (axons) and analysed the response to this injury using a time lapse microscope and found that increasing the amount of protrudin in these nerve cells vastly increased their ability to repair themselves. The protrudin was delivered to the cells using a gene therapy technique.

Glaucoma is the name for a group of eye conditions that cause sight loss because of damage to the optic nerve – the nerve that connects the eyes to the brain. Prior to this study, there was no treatment that allowed for damage to the optic nerve to be reversed. Around 500,000 people are living with glaucoma in the UK and it’s the second leading cause of blindness in the world.

Despite all currently available treatments, around 10-15% of patients with glaucoma go blind in at least one eye during their lifetime. Not only could this research be effective in halting or reversing the damage caused by glaucoma, it could also be hugely important in improving success rates of eye transplants – helping a transplanted eye to connect to the brain by growing axons through the optic nerve.”

Professor Keith Martin

The findings of this research are incredibly promising – not just for people with glaucoma-related sight loss, but also more broadly in the case of sight loss as a result of damage to the optic nerve. Professor Martin and his team’s work represents a significant breakthrough for eye research and the potential of regenerative medicine to find new treatments for preventing as well as reversing sight loss.”

Dr Neha Issar-Brown, Director of Research, Fight for Sight

It's hoped that this promising research will be followed by clinical trials in the next few years. If successful, the researchers hope this approach could become part of a new treatment strategy to repair the optic nerve in severe glaucoma over the next decade.

Journal reference:

Petrova, V., et al. (2020) Protrudin functions from the endoplasmic reticulum to support axon regeneration in the adult CNS. Nature Communications.


  1. Shelton Brown Shelton Brown United States says:

    This is amazing news. I am completely blind in right eye and really have been praying for repair to my optic nerves.

    • Keith Johnston Keith Johnston United Kingdom says:

      I am on limited sight in my right eye...but suffered optic nerve damage in both eyes..I also am hopeful progress will be made in less than 10 is great news and really really offers new hope and could be a great new tool in the fight against Gaulcoma in years to come...I would happily take part in clinic trials ....but Living in N.Ireland i do not know of any Clinic near to where i live...

  2. Shelton Brown Shelton Brown United States says:

    Does anyone have any info on the time line for US trials and possible implementations? I am hoping that we can see something before 10 years from now.

  3. russell fritts russell fritts United States says:

    Need help..where can I find clinical trial or doctor for --protruding gene therapy--

  4. russell fritts russell fritts United States says:


  5. Debbie Fuller Debbie Fuller United States says:

    I lost my sight in 2017 when surgery for a deep brain stimulator failed.  My optic nerve was atrophied.
    This is exciting news!  I too would like to know about any clinical trials in the US. Thanks you.
    Deborah Fuller
    [email protected]

  6. Debbie Fuller Debbie Fuller United States says:

    I would be very excited to be able to participate in a clinical trial.

    Correction to my email address:  [email protected]

  7. Tanja Schloegel Tanja Schloegel United States says:

    I fell and hit the right side of my face four years ago and lost complete sight in my right eye. The dr said it was damage to my optic nerve... I am only 41 and would love to be part of a clinical trial on getting my sight back!

  8. Ljubo Opaki Ljubo Opaki Croatia says:

    Would donating/fund raising speed up the process? Where could we donate?

  9. Kelley Crane Lloyd Kelley Crane Lloyd United States says:

    I was in a car accident and damaged the nerves behind my right eye. My pupil won’t dilate causing trouble with my depth perception. When I am excited my eyes used to change from hazel to bright green, my right eye no longer does this. I would be very appreciated to know if your study included any of these problems.

  10. Robert Diaz Robert Diaz United States says:

    This medical break through is amazing! I realize the procedure has to go through lengthy medical trials before it is approved.  At what stage will the trials be at in 2022?

  11. Raymond Ventura Raymond Ventura United States says:

    I had a fall downstairs in 2003 and damaged my optic nerve in my left eye; losing my eye sight at age 47.  I’m know 65 and would love to be part of any future clinical trials and could make see again.
    It been 18 1/2 years and I pray you’ll find the answer.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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