Donated eyes from the dead may be the key to giving sight back to the living. Researchers have found that cells from the back of the eye may be taken from donated eyes and used to repair the eyes of the blind. Human cells have successfully been used to restore some sight to blind mice, with human trials set to begin in the next three years.
The special type of cells extracted from the back of the eye are called Müller glial cells. Unlike donated corneas, which are already used to help people with disease in that area of the eye, Müller glial cells are a form of adult stem cell, meaning they can transform into any type of cell. This presents the possibility of treating a wide range of eye diseases that cause blindness, including macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.
In the study with mice, these specialized cells were turned into rod cells and successfully restored vision by 50% in blind mice. Once human trials begin, researchers hope for similar human sight restoration. Receiving donated cells would not likely allow a patient enough sight to read a book, but they could detect light and objects in the surroundings, greatly improving quality of life.