Glaucoma affects about 70 million people around the world.

London - A treatment for one of the most common causes of blindness could soon be available.

British researchers have used stem cells to heal the damage caused by glaucoma.

The treatment has only been tested on rats, but scientists say it could be tested on humans by 2015 and in widespread use four years later.

At present one in ten glaucoma sufferers go blind, due to late diagnosis, drugs not working or the disease being particularly severe.

Researchers at University College London took healthy stem cells – “master” cells capable of turning into other types of cell and widely seen as a repair kit for the body – from human eyes.

They used a cocktail of chemicals to turn them into retinal ganglion cells – those that die in glaucoma. They then injected these into the eyes of rats with glaucoma-like damage.

After just four weeks, the cells had connected with existing nerve cells, and the animals’ eyes worked 50 percent better, the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine reports.

Researcher Dr Astrid Limb, who was part-funded by the Medical Research Council, said: “Although this research is still a long way from the clinic, it is a significant step towards our ultimate goal of finding a cure for glaucoma and other related conditions.”

Glaucoma affects half a million Britons and 70 million people around the world. - Daily Mail