Friday 19 December, 2014

Restoring vision with stem cell help gives new hope to visually impaired

Published On: Thu, Jun 14th, 2012 | Stem Cell Research | By BioNews

Human-derived stem cells can spontaneously form the tissue that develops into the part of the eye that allows us to see, a new study has revealed.

Transplantation of this 3D tissue in the future could help patients with visual impairments see clearly.

“This is an important milestone for a new generation of regenerative medicine,” Yoshiki Sasai, senior author of the study from the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology, said.

“Our approach opens a new avenue to the use of human stem cell-derived complex tissues for therapy, as well as for other medical studies related to pathogenesis and drug discovery,” Sasai said.

During development, light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye, called the retina, forms from a structure known as the optic cup. In the new study, this structure spontaneously emerged from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs)—cells derived from human embryos that are capable of developing into a variety of tissues—thanks to the cell culture methods optimized by Sasai and his team.

The hESC-derived cells formed the correct 3D shape and the two layers of the optic cup, including a layer containing a large number of light-responsive cells called photoreceptors.

Since retinal degeneration primarily results from damage to these cells, the hESC-derived tissue could be ideal transplantation material.

Beyond the clinical implications, the study will likely accelerate the acquisition of knowledge in the field of developmental biology.

For instance, the hESC-derived optic cup is much larger than the optic cup that Sasai and collaborators previously derived from mouse embryonic stem cells, suggesting that these cells contain innate species-specific instructions for building this eye structure.

“This study opens the door to understanding human-specific aspects of eye development that researchers were not able to investigate before,” Sasai added.

The study has been published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

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