The restoration of sight is a sci- fantasy for many patients suffering from degenerative eye disease. But maybe, for not much longer, as human stem cell research has now offered the hope that retinal light sensing cells will be transplanted and once matured will connect with nerves that will once again provide visual signals to our brains.
These cells, laboratory grown, have for the first time been successfully transplanted into the eyes of blind mice. Researchers now say that if the procedure can be repeated with human stem cells, then most forms of sight loss from the degeneration of the damaged photoreceptor cells, could be reversed.
Previous experimental stem-cell research resulted in a treatment that supported and nourished photo-receptors in the eye, that led to the sight restoration for a patient blinded by degeneration of retinal cells,but was only successful as the transplanted cells relied upon some surviving photoreceptor cells in the retina. The new research offers hope as the new cells would work even where retinal cells had already completely degenerated.
The photoreceptors used embryonic stem cells that organized themselves into retina-like structures with the use if support within a new three-dimensional glob of jelly.
A fantastic plus for the research, was that throughout the study, we can also now identify the optimal stage in the cells' development to then successfully make the transplant. This was marked at around 24 days.
Dr Ali from the research team said
"We now have a route map for doing this with human embryonic stem cells," he says. The team has already grown the precursors to human retinal photoreceptor cells. "The challenge is to get [the procedure] efficient enough for transplants".