Light-sensing cells generated in a Petri dish from mouse embryonic stem cells can integrate into the retinas of adult mice with retinal disease and mature after transplantation, according to a report published online this week in Nature Biotechnology. The study represents a step in the development of cell therapies to correct vision loss due to retinal disease or injury.
In age-related macular degeneration and various inherited retinal disorders, the function of the retina is lost through damage to light-sensing cells called ‘photoreceptors.’ Previously it was shown that the vision of mice with similar disorders could be improved by transplanting into their retinas immature photoreceptors isolated from the retinas of young mice with no visual impairment.
Robin Ali and colleagues now study immature ‘rod’ photoreceptors made in the laboratory from embryonic stem cells, a cell type that has more potential for translation to human patients. They find that immature photoreceptors produced using a recently published ‘three-dimensional’ method integrate into the retinas of recipient mice with various forms of retinal disease. Furthermore, in the environment of a live mouse, the transplanted cells mature into cells that appear similar to fully developed, functional rod photoreceptors. The group did not assess whether the animals’ vision was improved as this would have required a far larger number of transplantable cells than could be produced in this study.