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Stem Cell Advances Could Increase Retina Treatment

Update Date: Jul 22, 2013 11:58 AM EDT

Treatment for people suffering from retina complications could be improved significantly as a new study found promising results. In this study, advances in stem cell technology allowed researchers to repair light vision in some mouse models. If this new procedure could be perfected, humans with retina deterioration could benefit drastically from this type of stem cell technology.

In this animal study, researchers from the United Kingdom utilized early stage and highly versatile stem cells acquired from mice embryos. The researchers cultured the samples in a laboratory where they were able to differentiate the cells into immature photoreceptors. Photoreceptors are the cells responsible for catching light in the retina. The team then injected around 200,000 photoreceptor cells into the mice's retinas. The researchers tested the mice's vision by placing them in a water maze. They found that only 1,000 of the cells ended up linking to the rest of the eye. Even though the success rate is low, the results suggest that this type of stem cell technology could be a future possibility.  

"[These cells] could in future provide a potentially unlimited supply of health photoreceptors for retinal transplantations to treat blindness in humans," the Britain's Medical Research Council (MRC) stated according to Medical Xpress.

Other degenerative eye diseases have been tied to the loss of photoreceptors. If scientists can create healthy photoreceptors, they could possibly become healthy replacement tissues for the retina. However, the researchers acknowledged one major difficulty during this process, which is the fact that creating these types of cells could potentially lead to cancerous cells. Despite this risk, scientists have tried multiple ways of creating specialized healthy cells.

"The next step will be to refine this technique using human cells to enable us to start clinical trials," Robin Ali, the lead researcher said. Ali is from the University College London Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital.

The researchers believe that that goal is to use stem cells directly from the patient, which could be reverted back to their versatile states. At this stage, the cells can be molded and specialized. As of right now, however, this process has not been deemed safe or effective, as more research needs to be done.

The study was published in Nature Biotechnology

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