Stem Cells Grow an Eye Retina
This is only the beginning but a good start for the eyes with stem cell treatments. The retina was grown in a dish and later down the road who knows what stem cells will do for correcting sight problems. Mouse embryonic stem cells were used for the study. BD
If the technique, published today in Nature, can be adapted to human cells and proved safe for transplantation — which will take years — it could offer an unlimited well of tissue to replace damaged retinas. More immediately, the synthetic retinal tissue could help scientists in the study of eye disease and in identifying therapies.
The work may also guide the assembly of other organs and tissues, says Bruce Conklin, a stem-cell biologist at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco, who was not involved in the work. “I think it really reveals a larger discovery that’s coming upon all of us: that these cells have instructions that allow them to self-organize.”
However, the eye structure created by Yoshiki Sasai at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe and his team is much more complex.
The optic cup is brandy-snifter-shaped organ that has two distinct cell layers. The outer layer — that nearest to the brain — is made up of pigmented retinal cells that provide nutrients and support the retina. The inner layer is the retina itself, and contains several types of light-sensitive neuron, ganglion cells that conduct light information to the brain, and supporting glial cells.
To make this organ in a dish, Sasai’s team grew mouse embryonic stem cells in a nutrient soup containing proteins that pushed stem cells to transform into retinal cells. The team also added a protein gel to support the cells. “It’s a bandage to the tissue. Without that, cells tend to fall apart,” Sasai says.
At first, the stem cells formed blobs of early retinal cells. Then, over the next week, the blobs grew and began to form a structure, seen early in eye development, called an optic vesicle. Just as it would in an embryo, the laboratory-made optic vesicle folded in on itself over the next two days to form an optic cup, with its characteristic brandy-snifter shape, double layer and the appropriate cells.
Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer of the biotechnology company Advanced Cell Technology, based in Santa Monica, California, says the paper has implications far beyond treating and modeling eye diseases. The research shows that embryonic stem cells, given the right physical and chemical surroundings, can spontaneously transform into intricate tissues. “Stem cells are smart,” Lanza says. “This is just the tip of the iceberg. Hopefully it’s the beginning of an important new phase of stem-cell research.”