Professor Ian Grierson and his colleagues have found that the shape of each CLAN is similar to the design of the framework forming the roofs over the Eden Project and the courtyard at the British Museum.
CLANs is an acronym for Cross-linked Action Networks. They are formed from the components which maintain the structure of individual cells and are known to change the shape, function and life cycle of cultured cells. Experts from around the world had previously argued whether such structures actually existed inside the body or whether they were just a theoretical possibility.
CLANs cause cells to become rigid and prevent them from working as they should - there is a strong possibility that they could play a part in glaucoma. Confirmation of their presence in the part of the eye affected by glaucoma, known as the trabecular meshwork, could well lead to new treatments for this disease. Such treatments are essential as glaucoma remains a major cause of blindness in the elderly. After cataracts, it is the second leading cause of vision loss in the world with over 65 million people suffering from the disease.
Professor Grierson said: "It had been predicted that the search to determine whether CLANs existed inside the eye would take our team six months to complete, but unequivocal confirmation eventually took three years!
"Taking into consideration the size of the structures we are looking at, one can fully understand why it took so long; the CLANs can be as thin as one micrometre - a micron or 1/1000th of a millimetre. There was of course the problem of discovering the best technique to view the CLANs with - not easy if you don't know whether they actually exist."
The findings have already opened new doors in the search to find new treatments for common eye diseases. Professor Grierson and his team are now working to understand the reasons why CLANs form.