One of the latest advancements in regenerative medicine involves injecting stem cells directly into the retinas to repair damage done by degenerative eye diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
The stem cells were cultured in a lab so that they differentiated into photoreceptors. These photoreceptors were then injected into mice retinas to restore their sight. To confirm this, the mice were put into a maze and tested to see how they responded to light.
According to Britain’s Medical Research Council (MRC), these stem cells could “in the future provide a potentially unlimited supply of healthy photoreceptors for retinal transplantations to treat blindness in human beings.”
Photoreceptor loss is due to a variety of different degenerative eye diseases. When it comes to dry macular degeneration, the macula deteriorates causing loss in the center field of vision. With Stargardt Disease, people experience a progressive blurring of their central vision, also affecting the macula.
If there were an effective way to repair and restore the damaged macular tissue, there would be hope for restoring sight to people with this condition. This is the primary focus of stem cell treatments: to restore and repair damaged tissue and organs.
Because of this hope, stem cells have triggered a massive spike in interest from physicians, clinicians, and patients alike. For example, scientists have just recently been able to create a human liver from stem cells alone. Additionally, scientists have recently been successful in growing teeth from stem cells.
Theoretically, the possibilities of stem cell use are virtually infinite.
There are some challenges that researchers are going to have to be able to tackle. One of which is the ability to ensure that these stem cells are programmed into safely becoming the specialized cells that are needed, rather than turn into cancerous cells.
Other than that, lead researcher Robin Ali at the University College London Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital says, “The complex structure of the retina has proven difficult to reproduce in the lab…”
It should be noted that the stem cells used in the studies mentioned are adult cells that are being reprogrammed to return to their developmental state, thus providing a non-controversial alternative to stem cells taken from early-stage embryos.
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Blog post written by John DiFolco.