Updated on 23 July 2013
Using a new laboratory technique involving 3D culture and differentiation of mouse embryonic stem cells, retinas containing all the different nerve cells needed for sight have been grown.
Singapore: Scientists funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) have carried out the first successful transplant of light-sensitive photoreceptor cells taken from a synthetic retina, grown ‘in a dish' from embryonic stem cells. When transplanted into night-blind mice these cells appeared to develop normally, integrating into the existing retina and forming the nerve connections needed to transmit visual information to the brain.
The findings, published in Nature Biotechnology, suggest that embryonic stem cells could in future provide a potentially unlimited supply of healthy photoreceptors for retinal cell transplantations to treat blindness in humans.
The loss of photoreceptors - light sensitive nerve cells that line the back of the eye - is a leading cause of sight loss in degenerative eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa and diabetes-related blindness. There are two types of photoreceptor in the eye - rods and cones. Rod cells are especially important for seeing in the dark as they are extremely sensitive to even low levels of light.
Previous work by Professor Robin Ali and his team at UCL (University College London) Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital has shown that transplanting immature rod cells from the retinas of healthy mice into blind mice can restore their sight. However, in humans this type of therapy would not be practical for the thousands of patients in need of treatment.
Using a new laboratory technique involving 3D culture and differentiation of mouse embryonic stem cells, which was developed recently in Japan, Professor Ali's team was able to grow retinas containing all the different nerve cells needed for sight.