Test tube retinas may lead to eye transplants
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.