Research suggests that cells taken from donated eyes of dead people could give sight to the blind.
Tests conducted on rats have shown that human cells could restore some vision to completely blind rats. A team at University College London have said that similar results in humans would be able to improve quality of life, however not enough vision would be given to read.
Within the next three years human trials will begin, reports the BBC.
Whilst donated corneas are already being used to improve some people’s sight the team at the Institute for Ophthalmology at UCL has begun to extract a special kind of cell from the back of the eye.
Muller glia cells are a type of adult stem cell capable of transforming into specialised cells in the back of the eye and could be used for treating a wide range of sight disorders. These cells were chemically charmed in the lab to become rod cells which detect light in the retina.
When injecting the rods into the backs of the eyes of completely blind rats their vision was partially restored. Scans of their brains showed that 50% of the electrical signals between the eye and the brain were recovered by the treatment.
Prof Astrid Limb, told the BBC what such a change would mean in people: “They probably wouldn’t be able to read, but they could move around and detect a table in a room. 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.”
Patients with disorders such as macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa may be helped by these cells.
Human stem cell trials are already beginning to take place using material taken from embryos, however this is ethically charged and can take several months to prepare for.
Prof Limb commented: “They are more easily sourceable and very easy to handle in the lab so from that perspective they’re better, but they do express antigens that could induce an immune response.”
Dr Paul Colville-Nash, the regenerative medicine programme manager at the Medical Research Council, which funded the study, said: “This interesting study shows that Muller glial cells are another viable avenue of exploration for cell therapy in retinal diseases. It’s not clear yet which approach will be most effective when these experimental techniques enter human trials, which is why it is important to progress research across all avenues in pursuit of a cure for sight loss.”
The full report can be found here.
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