Retinal visual cells, rods and cones, are types of nerve cells that are necessary for us to see. Diseases such as hereditary retinal degeneration and macular degeneration lead to blindness when the vision cells die and the body does not have the ability to replace them. Producing and transplanting new vision cells from embryonic stem cells could, in principle, replace lost vision cells and thus restore lost vision.
In a recently published scientific article, the research group led by Anders Kvanta and Helder André at Karolinska Institutet and St. Erik Eye Hospital, in collaboration with researchers from Duke National University in Singapore, has presented a technique to quickly and efficiently produce new vision cells from embryonic stem cells. The produced vision cells had great similarities to ordinary vision cells.
When the cells were transplanted into animals, the cells survived and were able to form new nerve connections with both mouse and rabbit’s own retinal cells. Genetically blind mice regained the ability to orient themselves in a water maze, showing that the transplanted vision cells can restore lost sight.
A current drawback with the method developed to produce vision cells from embryonic stem cells is the relatively low percentage of the cells formed vision cells, which did not mature fully into rods and cones, but only their precursors.
- This is an extremely promising first step. We are encouraged by the results with animals, and by improving the production of new vision cells from embryonic stem cells, the better the vision result will be, says Helder André.
- The results from this study show that in the future we may be able to prevent blindness in hereditary retinal degeneration and macular degeneration by transplanting new vision cells produced from stem cells.