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Cellular Experiments Point to Treatments for Blindness

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And that's where the shiny verdant mice come in. The researchers used a strain of laboratory mice that have been bred to have virtually every cell in their body contain a chemical that will glow green under ultraviolet light. The researchers then teased retinal progenitor cells out of the retinas of these mice and implanted the cells into tissues in the laboratory and into the eyes of other mice. Using ultraviolet light, they were then able to trace where the transplanted cells went and what happened to them.

They found that the transplanted cells, as they grew, began to look and act very much like photoreceptors. The new cells even emitted the chemical rhodopsin (also known as "visual purple"), which is found in normal rods and helps the eye discern movement.

Young is quick to caution that the results, while highly promising, are very early. "We're quite far from clinical trials of these cells," he tells WebMD. "First of all, we have to show that these cells are safe in animal models, and we haven't shown that yet. And we haven't really shown yet that they're effective. We still have to show that these cells can actually improve vision in an animal model before we even consider clinical trials."

 

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