Human embryonic stem cells implanted into mice specifically engineered to have a serious retinal dysfunction resulting in blindness have restored the animal’s capacity to sense light during tests.
The results, published in international magazine, Cell Stem Cell, were obtained in the United States by a research group in the Department of Biological Structure at the University of Washington in Seattle. The study, performed by Deepak Lamba, Juliane Gust, and Thomas Reh, demonstrated that it is possible to obtain retina progenitor cells from stem cells derived from the embryo. The researchers observed, “In principle, embryonic stem cells could be a source of photoreceptors” which are specialized nerve cells found on the retina and could be “used to repair the retina”.
Confirmation has come from the results of a recently published experiment: “we demonstrate that retinal cells derived from human embryonic stem cells migrate to the mouse retina”. Human cells were directly injected into the eyes of mice engineered to have a serious form of hereditary blindness known as Leber’s congenital amaurosis. Once injected, the cells began to differentiate turning into photoreceptors, and the animals were later able to sense light.
“This result demonstrates that, in principle, human embryonic stem cells can be used for therapies aimed at substituting damaged photoreceptors”. Photoreceptor degeneration is a common cause of congenital and age-related blindness, like macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the elderly.