A group of experts announces the creation of an early retina, an eight-layered structure that could one day be perfected to the point where it could replace damaged retinas in people losing their sight. The bioengineering innovation was achieved at the University of California in Irvine (UCI), where scientists used embryonic stem cells for the job. The three-dimensional (3D) tissue is the first to be produced using this type of cells, and represents an impressive advance in science.
An artificial retina could have the ability to change the lives of millions of people, who are currently suffering from conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration. These progressive diseases eventually lead to complete or total loss of sight, but a retinal implant would help avert this outcome, the UCI group believes. “We made a complex structure consisting of many cell types. This is a major advance in our quest to treat retinal disease,” explains UCI Reeve-Irvine Research Center and the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center member Hans Keirstead, the leader of the new study.
“Creating this complex tissue is a first for the stem cell field. Dr. Gabriel Nistor in our group addressed a really interesting scientific problem with an engineering solution, showing that gradients of solutions can create complex stem cell-based tissues,” the expert adds. He says that creating the gradient solutions that were used to make the embryonic stem cells differentiate into the specific cell types needed for the artificial retina was the biggest challenge in their research. Details of the investigation were published in the latest online issue of the esteemed Journal of Neuroscience Methods.
“What’s so exciting with our discovery is that creating transplantable retinas from stem cells could help millions of people, and we are well on the way,” Keirstead adds, referring to the 10 million US citizens who are currently suffering from macular degeneration. An additional 100,000 have retinitis pigmentosa, which is a relatively rare genetic disorder. The Keirstead group was supported in the new study by grants from The Lincy Foundation, as well as by private investigators.