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Retina Tissue From Stem Cells Tested On Mice, Now Offers Hope After Vision Loss

13 January 2017, 1:40 pm EST By Athena Chan Tech Times
New stem cell research using retina tissue offers hope for people who suffer from vision loss. Mice models gained the ability to see light after the procedure.  ( Scott Olson | Getty Images )

Retinal degeneration affects millions around the world with varying degrees of vision problems. It is a debilitating disease that has a strong impact on patients' quality of life.

Implanting artificial retinas is the most common treatment to the disease, but further studies and laboratory experiments are being made to remedy the severe vision problem.

More recently, progress has been made. Researchers successfully improved the vision of mice with the help of stem cells.

Using a mouse model, the team used stem cells harvested from mice skin cells to grow retina tissues, and transplanted the tissues onto mice with end-stage retinal degeneration.

What resulted was an improved ability to see light. As the team labeled the transplanted cells with a fluorescent protein to identify them, they were amazed to see that the cells had indeed naturally attached themselves onto the bipolar cells of the mice.

To assess the mice's ability to see light, the researchers used a sort of behavioral analysis to see not just if the mice models could detect light, but also if the information gathered in their transplanted retina cells are transmitted to the brain, suggesting successful learning.

The use of a basic beeping sound and light cues, which suggest a slight electric shock, was able to confirm to researchers the success of the procedure.

After the procedure, four out of the 10 mice with both eyes subjected to the procedure, and five out of the 11 mice with only one eye subjected were able to respond to the light cues. This is the first successful transplant of light receptors that functionally connect to the host's nervous system.

Relevance in Human Retinal Degeneration Treatment

Researchers admit that the success of their treatment still has a long way to go. Since the experiment was done with mice models, its implications on the treatment of human retinal degeneration are still unclear.

However, the team's relevant findings do give, not just hope to individuals afflicted with the disease, but significant proof of the possibility to restore vision in end-stage retinal degeneration with the use of stem cells.

Retinal degeneration happens when the retina, a tissue found in the back of the eye that transmits images to the brain, is damaged or begins deteriorating. Some examples of this disease are Macular Degeneration, Retinoblastoma or cancer of the retina and Diabetic Eye Disease. In serious cases, Retinal Degeneration can lead to complete vision loss.

While the possibility of restoring vision through stem cell transplants in humans may still need further research, the current development does provide good news to sufferers of retinal degeneration.

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