Cure for Blindness in Sight: Retinal Stem Cell Transplant Clears Experimental Hurdle
This is an image of RPE implant embedded in the sub-retinal space of a non-human primate model. The background retinal vessels highlighted by fundus fluorescein angiography.
Credit: Su, Xinyi
Retinal cells derived from adult human eye stem cells survived when transplanted into the eyes of monkeys, an important early step in the validation of this approach for treating blindness, according to a study by Liu, et al recently published in Stem Cell Reports. The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), a layer of pigmented cells in the retina, is essential for sustaining normal vision. Blindness due to RPE dysfunction, such as macular degeneration, affects about 200 million people worldwide.
To restore this population of cells, researchers extracted retinal stem cells from donated cadaver adult eyes, grew them into RPE cells and transplanted them into the eyes of monkeys. These unique cells have the potential to serve as an unlimited resource of human RPE, with the possibility of donor compatibility matching.
The study is the first time the safety and feasibility of adult retinal stem cell-derived RPE transplants in non-human primates was assessed. Researchers found that RPE patches transplanted into the monkey’s eye stably integrated for at least three months with no serious side effects. What is more, the stem cell-derived RPE partially took over the function of the monkey RPE and was able to support normal photoreceptor function. Importantly, these cells did not cause retinal scarring.