Regeneration of Human Cells Could Reverse Macular Degeneration and Retinitis Pigmentosa

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Shakespeare’s fictional witches made a potion with eye of newt, but now some very real researchers are looking to the regenerative powers of newt to save human sight.

Scientists at the University of California, San Diego have been awarded a National Institutes of Health grant to study regenerative potential of retinal cells with hopes of finding treatments for macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.

Inspired by goldfish and newts who have the ability to regenerate a lost limb or eye, researchers are hoping to make it possible for humans to do the same thing for retinal cells.  The team at UCSD is specifically looking at Muller cells, which fish use to regenerate nerve cells after eye injuries and which are also present in the nervous system of humans.  The human genome is close enough to those of others in the animal kingdom to find these cell commonalities.  It is hoped that these Muller cells can be turned into photoreceptors in the eye.  When photoreceptors die off, people lose visual function to diseases like macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.


Scientists at UC Irvine have created an early stage retina from human embryonic stem cells.  It is the first three-dimensional tissue structure to be made from stem cells and bring us closer to the development of transplant-ready retinas to treat eye disorders such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration that affect millions.  Researchers managed to employ a technique that allowed them to create the multiple cell types necessary for the retina.

Source: Journal of Neuroscience Methods, 4-24-10.