Retinal stem cells have now been created from human skin, adding yet another specialized cell type to a rapidly growing list of cells that can be created using induced pluripotent (iPS) methodology. The finding could prove to be an important method in the production of human retinal cells, which would help overcome one of the greatest obstacles to successful stem cell therapies to treat eye conditions. The announcement was made on Monday by a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Discoveries such as this are important to understanding development of the human eye and understanding how eye diseases or other genetic eye conditions arise and progress. In the lab, these cells can be used to model diseases, enabling safe and rapid testing of potential drug therapies. Read SCN’s 2009 summary of current global and Canadian research to treat eye disease.
A Canadian team led by Valerie Wallace at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute is concurrently studying better methods for controlling stem cells, so that they can coax these cells into producing different types of eye cells, such as retinal and corneal cells. They will also develop more efficient transplantation methods that help new eye cells integrate with existing tissue to restore lost vision. And they will work towards combining cells, genes, biomaterials and pharmaceuticals to create an improved artificial cornea.
Retinal stem cells were first discovered in 2000 by Derek van der Kooy at the University of Toronto.