Lab-Grown Retina from Stem Cells Responds to Light

…stem cell researchers have struggled to coax the malleable cells to form the 10 layers of the retina. And, crucially, no one had, before now, produced lab-grown retinal cells that they demonstrated would respond to light.Researchers at Johns Hopkins pulled it off, they reported in a paper published recently in Nature Communications. They cultivated a three-dimensional complement of retinal tissue, including functioning photoreceptor cells that responded to light, from induced pluripotent stem cells.

“We have basically created a miniature human retina in a dish that not only has the architectural organization of the retina but also has the ability to sense light,” said Valeria Canto-Soler, the senior author and an assistant professor of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins medical school.

The ultimate goal of this work is to be able to grow replacement retinas for people suffering from macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa or any of the other diseases that destroy the retina. But the retina made at Johns Hopkins is like a rough draft; it’s not ready for implant. Imperfect replicas could be useful for medical research, though. Any retina produced from the stem cells of a patient with a particular disease would almost certainly show signs of the disease in vitro, where experimental treatments can be tried without the fear of side-effects.

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