Health News: Synthetic retinas and Stem Cell Reseach

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Apr 08, 2011

Stem Cell Research - Vision Restoring Transplant

In a breakthrough, scientist have been able to grow the retina in a laboratory using stem cells.  This astounding achievement holds great promise for vision restoring transplants.   It is expected most to beneift persons with age related macular degeneration (AMD).  It will take anywhere from 5 -20 years before synthetic retinas are available.


Scientists grow retina in lab using stem cells

London, Apr 7 (PTI) For the first time, scientists have grown the retina, part of an eyeball, in laboratory using stem cells, a breakthrough which they say has brightened the possibility of vision restoring transplants raising hopes of millions of blind people.

The Japanese scientists, who were behind the "astounding" achievement, said people suffering from age-related macular degeneration (AMD) -- the most common cause of blindness in the elderly -- could benefit from their work within years, the Daily Mail reported.


Embryonic Stem Cells used to grow retina

In their experiments on mice, the researchers at the RIKEN Centre for Developmental Biology in Kobe used "blank" embryonic stem cells -- which can turn into any cell in the body -- as their starting material.

They then added a cocktail of proteins and chemicals to coax the cells into developing into parts of an eye.  Although the resulting retina did not mature, it was roughly at the stage found in a baby before it is born, the researchers reported in the journal Nature.

Scientists have yet to show that the cells actually work. Despite this, experts believe the discovery that retinas can be grown in the lab has opened up the possibility that organs could in future be grown on demand.

British eye expert Robin Ali of the University College London said: "It is a really, really major landmark.  "To see that beautiful structure in a dish as if it had just been taken from an animal is absolutely astounding."


Synthetic Retina possible in 5 - 10 years

He believes tests on people could take place in as little as five years and in just ten to 20 years, synthetic retina cells could be used to restore sight to the blind, he hoped.

The retina, which lines the back of the eye, picks up light and sends it through the optic nerve to the brain for conversion into images.

In age-related macular degeneration, the deterioration of its light-sensitive cells, or photoreceptors, creates a blackspot in the vision.  This can make it impossible to carry out everyday tasks such as reading, driving and watching television.


Skin to be used to develop synthetic retina

In future, it might be possible to begin with nothing more than a sliver of skin from a patient's arm. These cells would be developed into a retina that would perfectly match the person. Its light-sensitive cells could be injected into the back of the eye to repair damage and restore vision.

"The thought that we may be able to generate the cells in large numbers from patients¿ own skin is very exciting," said Oxford University eye surgeon Robert MacLaren.

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