Dead eyes may heal the blind in futureFeatured Saturday, February 8th, 2014
Human stem cells have been instrumental in partially restoring the vision of blind rats, according to a recent study reported in Stem Cells Translational Medicine. This means that there is hope that sometime in the future the same cells may be used to help restore vision in humans.
Although the practice of using donated corneas to improve sight is not something new, the team that had conducted the research in the Institute for Ophthalmology – University College London, had ventured further and extracted a particular cell from the back of the eyes.
These stem cells had been chemically manipulated into becoming rod cells that detect light in the retina. The rods had then been injected into the back of the eyes of completely blind rats. The experiment was successful in partially restoring the vision of the rats. Researchers believe that these adult stem cells known as Muller glia cells, have the potential to be used for treating a wide range of visual impairments.
The team is also hopeful that similar results could be expected in humans as well. Trials in using this technique on people are expected to start in over three years’ time.
“They probably wouldn’t be able to read, but they could move around and detect a table in a room,” explains Professor Astrid Limb to the BBC, on what the findings may mean for humans. “They would be able to identify a kettle and cup to make a cup of tea. Their quality of life would be so much better, even if they could not read or watch TV.”
According to brain scans the treatment was able to recover 50% of the electrical signals between the eyes and the brain.
“This interesting study shows that Muller glial cells are another viable avenue of exploration for cell therapy in retinal diseases,” commented Dr.Paul Colville-Nash, regenerative medicine programme manager of the Medical Research Council, which funded the research.