Scientist in the UK have made a major move forward in their search to find a cure for Stargardt’s disease which causes juvenile blindness, and age-related macular degeneration which causes blindness in older adults.
According to a study done on mice in the, irreversible blindness caused by loss of photoreceptors may be responsive to stem cell therapy which may reverse blindness in patients with Stargardt’s disease and age-related macular degeneration.
Researchers at Moorfields Eye Hospital and University College London foresee human trials in the near future.
The retina is made of many cells, the photoreceptors are among them. Photoreceptors detect light and are connected to cells that relay information to the brain.
In some diseases of the eye the photoreceptor cells die off and cause blindness.
The London team applied an approach created by a Japanese team that used stem cells from mice to create retinas. The London team manipulated the cells and created photoreceptor cells and injected them into the eyes of blind mice.
The study showed that the stem cells were able to connect with the existing cells and begin to function, but the number of cells transplanted verses the number that were able to connect to the other cells in the eye were low.
The London researchers’ photoreceptor study gives hope that stem cell therapy may be able to replace light sensing cells and possibly reverse blindness in some patients.
Lead researcher Prof Robin Ali told the BBC News website: “This is a real proof of concept that photoreceptors can be transplanted from an embryonic stem cell source and it give us a route map to now do this in humans.”
“That’s why we’re so excited, five years is now a realistic aim for starting a clinical trial.”
Stem cell research on the eye is most promising because the light sensing cells in the eye only need one additional cell to transfer messages to the brain, unlike other organs in the body which require multiple sources to transport messages.
The eye also requires a lower number of stem cells to regenerate than other organs which require many more. The immune system in the eye is also not as strong so the probability of transplant rejection is low.
Professor Chris Mason, from University College London believes this study is a major step forward but it is still too early in the process to consider clinical trials because of low efficiency. Once the efficiency level rises, the next step to consider is if it can be done on humans.
“But I think it is a significant breakthrough which may lead to cell therapies and will give a much expanded knowledge on how to cure blindness,” said Mason.
This stem cell therapy may reverse the degeneration of photoreceptor cells which detect light and give patients with juvenile and age related blindness a chance to see again.
By: Veverly Edwards