Retina Transplants

If growing organs in Petri dishes sounds like a sci-fi horror plot line, then the Sasai lab in Japan is a perfect set. These scientists are leading the way in using stem cells to grow retinas, making giving vision to those who have lost their sight due to diseases such as retina pigmentosa a possibility. This disease affects the retina as it ruins its ability to respond to light and send signals to our brains.

Probably the most interesting part about the process of growing these retinas is that their development is almost completely self-directed. “The researchers only needed to coax the embryonic stem cells, which can become any cell in the human body, into becoming eye cells.” This “nudging” was done using certain hormones and substances identified in the process of retina growth. What is so interesting about this finding is the fact that the growth is internally programmed into the cells that end up making up the retina.

Though this “eye cup” has only been developed for mouse retina and actually hasn’t even been proven to cure blindness, researchers are saying that it is most likely possible that though the growth period would be much longer, that the growth of a human eye grown in a culture is completely plausible.

“The eye-cup develops from a grouping of about 3,000 cells by first growing a loop outward from the center, then folding those cells into a shape reminiscent of a brandy glass. The cell cup then grows to nearly 1/10 of an inch (2 millimeters) wide and develops all the layers of a developing eye, including the light-sensing cells called photoreceptors, ganglion cells that attach to the optic nerve and pigmented cells that give our eyes their color.” So really, the only things missing from this process are blood flow to the eye and nerve connections that actually send the signals to the brain. Not only can scientists help cure retinal disease from the growth of these stem cell based retinas, but they can also learn more about the eye to help improve treatments and develop other cures for retinal problems.

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Written by: Sergey Chikvashvili


One response to “Retina Transplants

  1. Mrs Kathryn Lyttke

    The thought that one day scientists may be able to replace damaged retinas in patients with RP is amazing. My son was diagnosed 7 years ago and his sight is deteriorating. He is terriefied at the thought of going blind and this may offer a glimmer of hope. I too am worried about his future and hope and pray that scientists may be able to restore his sight. Please keep me up to date of progress in what can only be described as ‘life giving’ scientific development. I fear for him as he often bumps into things and as a young man he wants to be able to lead a normal life. God bless you.

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