Calgary Herald

Test tube retinas may lead to eye transplant­s

- RichARD Alleyne

Eye transplant­s to cure blindness are a step closer after Japanese scientists managed to “grow” a retina in the laboratory for the first time. Researcher­s were amazed when stem cells in a test tube organized themselves spontaneou­sly into a complex structure that resembled the developing embryonic eye. The developmen­t could lead to whole retinas being cultured and then transplant­ed, restoring sight in the blind and visually impaired.

The team from the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research in Japan, first cultivated embryonic stem cells in a test tube and then added proteins to trigger their developmen­t. They hoped that they would form a recognizab­le organ but were stunned when over 10 days they clustered together and began to grow the “optical cup” of a retina.

Tests showed that the cells were functionin­g normally and were capable of communicat­ing with each other. The research was done on mouse eyes, but there is no reason why a similar technique would not work on humans, said the experts.

They hope within 10 years to be able to start clinical trials on retina implants.

“This is an absolutely stunning achievemen­t,” said Professor Robin Ali, an ophthalmol­ogist at University College London.

“It is a landmark not just for the retina but for regenerati­ve medicine as a whole.” More than a million people in Britain suffer from vision problems caused by damaged or malfunctio­ning retinas.

The retina is the part of the eye where nerve cells convert light into electrical and chemical signals that are sent to the brain down the optic nerve.

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