Restoring Vision From Skin Cells?

This week, the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) is having their annual meeting, and they are allowing a number of different research groups to present their studies and recent work in the field.

Interestingly, one of these studies includes a group of Japanese researchers that is making a huge mark in the history books with the first ever skin-to-eye stem cell transplant operation. This surgery is the first ever done on a human patient, and it successfully restored vision.

Taking a small piece of skin from the patient, the researchers reprogrammed the skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs), which were further transformed into eye cells. The new cells were then transplanted into the patient’s eye.

Results showed that the cells survived in the eye for over a year without anything going wrong. In fact, the patient reported an improvement in vision…only a slight improvement, but this is still early work.

The subject was suffering from advanced wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition where blind spots in vision occur. This is not treatable by most standard treatments we have today. The successful operation showed a new and innovative way to deal with these types of conditions.

Not Really The First

It’s not the first time scientists made a significant impact in the world of medicine and biology using stem cells. In the lab of Shinya Yamanaka was where the technology to transform regular adult cells into stem cells (IPSCs), which could differentiate into the various types of cells found in the body.

Since then, many medical milestones have been achieved with this technology. In fact, the research mentioned here makes use of this process. And in a previous study, a different set of Japanese researchers had successfully restored vision in rabbits, generally using the same principles, and they are also eyeing human trials in the future (pun intended).


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