For the first time, scientists have successfully transplanted light-detecting cells in the retina, grown from embryonic stem cells, into mice–a feat that could advance similar therapies using the artificial cells to treat degenerative eye diseases toward human trials.
The animal transplant is a huge step for embryonic stem cell-based therapies, which have moved slowly to the clinic despite their promise.
A team of scientists from University College London’s Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital in London grew a synthetic retina from embryonic stem cells in the lab, extracted the light-sensitive photoreceptor cells that line the back of the eyes, and transplanted the cells into night-blind mice. Researchers observed that the cells seemed to develop normally, integrating into the existing retina and forming the nerve connections needed to transmit visual information to the brain.
In degenerative eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa and diabetes-related blindness, the loss of photoreceptors causes vision to deteriorate and can lead to blindness.