Page URL:

Lab-made retina cells functional in mice

29 July 2013
Appeared in BioNews 715

Light-sensitive cells found in the retina have been grown from mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and successfully transplanted into the eyes of visually impaired mice, restoring some vision.

Although the technique as it currently stands would be unsuitable for use in humans, the development suggests that ESCs could one day provide a supply of these cells, called photoreceptors, to treat some forms of blindness.

The research builds on a previous study where immature retina cells were transplanted from the eyes of young mice to restore vision in visually impaired older animals. The new technique removes the need for the donor eye, with the ESCs providing a renewable source of cells.

Professor Robin Ali from University College London (UCL), who led the study, said that 'the road is clear to the first set of clinical trials'.

Although he also cautioned: 'it certainly isn't a case of rolling out treatments in five years' time and providing therapies. It's taken us ten years to get here and it'll take us five years to get started in people'.

Many eye disorders arise from the irreversible loss of photoreceptors in the retina – the sheet of cells sitting at the back of the eye - including age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness in elderly people.

In the study, researchers first grew ESCs in the laboratory to create a synthetic retina. They were then able to take the light-sensitive photoreceptor cells from this retina and inject them into the eyes of night-blind mice. The mice were tested in a water maze in low light conditions and those with the injected photoreceptor cells preformed better than those without.

The photoreceptor cells were engineered to express a fluorescent protein and after three weeks scientists saw that the photoreceptors were integrating into the mice's retinas and maturing to become fully functional. The cells were still present six weeks after transplantation.

Experts were quick to praise the development. Dr Rob Buckle, director of the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform, who was not involved in the study, said: 'This study is an important milestone on the road to developing a widely available cell therapy for blindness as it proves unequivocally that embryonic stem cells can provide a renewable source of photoreceptors that could be used in treatments'.

Professor Chris Mason, chair of regenerative medicine bioprocessing at UCL, added a note of caution: 'Before human clinical trials can commence, the mouse model will require significant optimisation, for example increasing the efficiency of new photoreceptors to connect with the damaged retina'.

'However', he added, 'there is no doubt that this is a breakthrough'.

5 May 2015 - by Dr Greg Ball 
Retinal cells derived from human embryonic stem cells have been successfully transplanted into four Korean patients with macular degeneration...
12 January 2015 - by Dr Lanay Griessner 
The first advanced therapy containing stem cells has received a positive assessment from the European Medicines Agency...
6 October 2014 - by Dr Greg Ball 
A pool of stem cells found on the surface of the eye can be used to form light-sensitive cells that could one day treat blindness, researchers have reported...
7 July 2014 - by Dr Daniel Grimes 
In one of the first experiments to grow tissue from adult stem cells, scientists have grown corneas in the lab...
16 June 2014 - by Alice Plein 
In a research first, a section of light-sensing tissue, closely resembling the human retina, has been grown in the laboratory from human stem cells...
28 June 2013 - by Rhys Baker 
A Japanese Health Ministry panel has approved the first use of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) in human trials...
28 May 2012 - by Ana Pallesen 
Two patients with corneal blindness have become the first people in the UK to have stem cells transplanted into their eyes in order to restore their sight...
12 March 2012 - by Dr Nadeem Shaikh 
A potential stem cell therapy for glaucoma – a degenerative eye condition that can lead to blindness – has yielded positive results in animal tests...
6 February 2012 - by Ruth Retassie 
US company StemCells Inc have received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorisation to carry out clinical trials of their treatment for one of the leading causes of blindness in over 55-year-olds...
26 September 2011 - by Dr Rachael Panizzo 
UK scientists have been granted approval to begin the first clinical trial using embryonic stem cells (ES cells) in Europe, which they hope could lead to an effective treatment for a degenerative eye disease causing blindness...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.