A groundbreaking new research may just have gotten closer to curing blindness as researchers from the United Kingdom have shown that the use of stem cells can be used to reverse the effects of blindness.
While there may be numerous reasons for blindness, all involve the degeneration of the cells that pick up light in the eye, but in the new study, the researchers were able to repair the damage done to these photoreceptors using stem cells — which experts are calling a “significant breakthrough” and a “huge leap” forward.
Researchers from Moorfields Eye Hospital and University College London conducted tests in animals in which they were able to repair the photoreceptors in eyes by completely replacing them using stem cells. It had previously been shown that stem cells could be used to replace the “support” cells within the eye that help keep the photoreceptors alive, but the present research has gone a step forward and made significant progress.
For the present study, the researchers actually created retinas in the laboratory, collecting from them thousands of stem cells, which were then reprogramed into developing into photoreceptors. These were then injected into the eyes of blind mice, and gradually, these new photoreceptors were incorporated into the blind eyes, going on to begin function and restoring, if at least partially, eyesight in the mice.
Speaking about the research, Dr. Robin Ali, who led the study, said, “This is a real proof of concept that photoreceptors can be transplanted from an embryonic stem cells source and it give us a route map to now do this in humans. That’s why we’re so excited, five years is a now a realistic aim for starting a clinical trial.”
The researchers did add though that the effectiveness of such a treatment was still “low,” as out of a transplant of around 200,000 photoreceptor cells, only about 1,000 eventually “hooked up,” with the blind eye giving partial vision.
Commenting on the study, University College London Prof. Chris Mason said, “I think they have made a major step forward here, but the efficiency is still too low for clinical uses. At the moment the numbers of tiny and it will take quite a bit of work to get the numbers up and then the next question is ‘Can you do it in man?’ But I think it is a significant breakthrough which may lead to cell therapies and will give a much expanded knowledge on how to cure blindness.”
Details of the study have been published in the journal, Nature Biotechnology.