A recent breakthrough in stem cell research is bringing hope for the many who suffer from eye conditions that damage the retina, including retinitis pigmentosa, diabetic retinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration.
According to a press release on Tuesday, May 17, scientists at Harvard’s Schepens Eye Institute succeeded in using iPS cells (induced pluripotent stem cells) derived from skin to regenerate large areas of healthy cells in a damaged retina.
The scientists took cells from the tails of mice and manipulated them in the lab until they formed the precursors of retinal cells. They then placed these cells into one eye of a mouse that had been genetically modified to have defective retinas. After about 4 to 6 weeks had elapsed, the cells showed that they had assimilated into the eye environment, and when scientists stimulated them with light, the light registered in the mouse’s neurons.
Simply put, the retinal cells developed in the lab were, miraculously, functioning as healthy eye cells, giving the mouse better vision.
This is not the first time that scientists have generated retinal cells in the lab, however. Previously scientists at Georgetown University Medical Center used adult stem cells to generate retinal cells, and scientists in Japan created retinal cells from the embryonic stem cells of mice.
What makes the Schepens study unique is that it used iPS cells to create retina cells. iPS cells are adult stem cells that are essentially reprogrammed to behave like embryonic stem cells. They have similar properties to embryonic stems cells, but without the political, ethical, and moral complications.
Though this research is still in its infancy, its success is encouraging for people who have previously had no treatment for their vision problems caused by retinal disease. If you have questions or are suffering from retina damage, please contact an experienced eye doctor today through www.eyes.com.