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Eye Health Center

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Retina Stem Cells May Restore Sight

Stem Cells Harvested in Later Stage of Development Restored Visual Function in Mice
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 8, 2006 - Timing may be everything when it comes to restoring lost eyesight through stem cell therapy.

In a new study, retina stem cells harvested at a particular stage of development successfully restored visual function in mice affected by a common cause of blindness also found in humans, known as photoreceptor loss.

Although earlier attempts at retina transplantation using embryonic stem cells failed, the researchers say that by using stem cells at a later stage of development, they were able to repair damaged retinas in the mice.

"We worked on the theory that cells at a later stage of development might have a higher probability of success upon transplantation" says researcher Robin Ali of the University College London Institute of Ophthalmology in a news release.

"And we show here that cells taken from the peak rod genesis stage of development, when the retina is about to be formed, can be successfully transplanted and integrate into the adult or degenerating retina," says Ali.

Researchers say the findings challenge the assumption that early embryonic stem cells are the best option for tissue repair and may have implications for other types of stem cell therapy and transplantation.

Retina Transplants

Photoreceptor loss is a form of retina damage implicated in many causes of blindness in humans, from age-related macular degeneration to diabetes.

This type of blindness has been considered irreversible because the mature retina was believed to have no ability to repair itself or to support development of new photoreceptors, which are light-sensing cells.

Previous attempts to generate new photoreceptors using brain and retina stem cells - cells with the ability to become a number of different types of cells -- have failed because the stem cells didn't integrate into their new environment or develop into photoreceptor cells.

New Approach

In this study, researchers took stem cells at later developmental stages and transplanted them into adult mice with photoreceptor loss.

Their results suggest there is a particular time window of development for transplant success in restoring sight to the blind mice.

In the study, cells harvested during this window were able to form new connections within the mature retina and improve the blind mice's visual responses to light.

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