Stem cells can be transplanted to the retina
Transplanting stem cells to a diseased retina may be a method of treating certain common eye disorders in the future. In her dissertation, Lund scientist Anita Blixt Wojciechowski reports research findings that enhance the knowledge needed to make this treatment possible.
Retinitis pigmentosa is a hereditary retinal disease that affects one person in 3,500 and leads to severe vision impairment or blindness. Age-related deterioration of the yellow spot, the part of the retina that is most crucial to sharp vision, is another common cause of vision impairment. This disease (age related macular disease) affects nearly a third of all people over the age of 75. Today there is no good treatment for either disease.
Anita Blixt Wojciechowskis research involves transplanting fetal stem cells from rats to the eyes of adult rats. She has experienced both success and failure in her work.
– We managed to get the transplanted cells to integrate and spread in the hosts retina. On the other hand, they did not develop into new, healthy nerve cells but rather into glia cells, which constitute a sort of support tissue, she says.
Many research teams have had trouble getting stem cells to develop into nerve cells. But there is an alternative solution. It should be possible to have the transplanted cells carry with them growth factors and other substances that can save the sick cells. They could also be supplied with genes that produce the substances that the sick cells are no longer capable of producing. For these purposes the transplanted stem cells do not need to develop into nerve cells. They can just as well be glia cells.
The ideal solution in the future would be to take stem cells from the patients themselves, according to Anita Blixt Wojciechowski. There are in fact stem cells on the edge of the retina even in adults. If these could be removed, cultivated in larger quantities, supplied with genes to produce the necessary substances, and then transplanted back into the diseased eye, there would be no problems of rejection and no ethical problems involving fetal stem cells. Its a long road, but a few steps have now been taken in the right direction.
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