A method for generating several key types of eye tissue from human stem cells in a way that mirrors whole eye development is described online this week in Nature. When transplanted to an animal model of corneal blindness, these tissues are shown to repair the front of the eye and restore vision.
The eye is composed of highly specialized tissues that are derived from a variety of cell lineages during development. Previous studies have demonstrated that particular cell types, such as those that constitute the retina or cornea, can be created in the laboratory from pluripotent stem cells. However, these studies do not represent the complexity of whole eye development.
Kohji Nishida and colleagues report the generation of multiple cell lineages of the eye, including the lens, cornea, and conjunctiva, using human induced pluripotent stem cells. They show that the corneal epithelial cells can be cultivated and transplanted onto the eyes of rabbits with experimentally induced blindness to surgically repair the front of the eye. The authors suggest that their work could set the stage for future potential human clinical trials of anterior eye transplantation to restore visual function.