Blindness may be cured with stem cells in the future. And that includes age-related macular degeneration, which AMD Awareness has called the leading cause of blindness in people over 60. A new study published Sunday in Nature Biotechnology has been called a big leap forward and an important milestone.
The University College London scientists announced Sunday that they’d performed the first successful transplant of photoreceptor cells grown in a lab as part of a synthetic retina. The cells were then transplanted into mice suffering from night-blindness.
In a statement, the team headed up by Dr. Robin Ali said that they used a new technique which allowed them “to grow retinas containing all the different nerve cells needed for sight.”
Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News noted that it has been a big month indeed for stem cells. New liver buds and vascular cells have also been successfully transplanted into mice.
Now there’s new hope for victims of age-related macular degeneration and other forms of blindness that impact the eye’s light-gathering cells also known as photoreceptors.
In his statement Dr. Ali said: “[U]ntil recently the complex structure of the retina has proved difficult to reproduce in the lab…
“The new 3D technique more closely mimics normal development, which means we are able to pick out and purify the cells at precisely the right stage to ensure successful transplantation. The next step will be to refine this technique using human cells to enable us to start clinical trials.”
This isn’t coming next week. By a successful transplant, the team means that the new cells integrated in a healthy way into the mice retina and eyes.
The researchers haven’t yet assessed how much vision the mice actually regained.
But the successful surgery is a milestone because it proves the team’s theory that stem cells being used to treat blindness won’t be rejected by the recipient’s eyes.
The UCL team pointed out that this area of research is one where scientists are making fast progress. They believe their results prove it’s only a matter of time and development before blindness can be treated with stem cells therapy.
[eye photo by Vitalinka via Shutterstock]