Researchers in Kobe, Japan have succeeded in growing new retinal tissue, with the hope of curing an inherited condition, called retinitis pigmentosa. Affected individuals are born with functional retinal photoreceptors but, over time, as these specialised cells begin to die, they progressively lose their eyesight. At present there is no cure or effective treatment available.
Scientists extracted human embryonic stem cells and used a number of existing techniques to induce differentiation of these cells into retinal cells and eventually retinal tissue. Prior to this endeavour, such tissue (dubbed, hESC-retina) had been transplanted successfully into nude rats. To further assess its clinical utility, Shirai et al. developed two models of photoreceptor degeneration in primates and proceeded to treat them with implantation of the hESC retinal graft. Postoperational examinations show that the implanted tissue has made a number of new connections and the multipotent stem cells of the graft are differentiating into the more specialised cells required for light detection, including rod and cone photoreceptors.
Similar work has been done to develop a treatment for those with age-related macular degeneration, with successful transplantation into a human being completed in 2014. This emphasises that such a treatment is feasible in humans, proving much potential for this novel therapy.
There is hope for finally providing the individuals suffering from this debilitating genetic disorder with an effective treatment.
Photo: Flickr, Dan Foy