Retinal Stem Cells of the Dead Used on Monkeys to Treat Blindness

This research is a step towards treating a dysfunction that causes blindness and affects 200 million people worldwide.
Derya Ozdemir

A dysfunction causing blindness that affects 200 million individuals worldwide has now seen early and tentative steps in its treatments thanks to a peer-reviewed, experimental research.

Retinal cells derived from donated cadaver adult eye stem cells survived when transplanted into the eyes of monkeys, according to the study which is part of an international collaboration between the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Institute of Molecular Cell Biology, Singapore Eye Research, National University of Singapore, and Eye Clinic Sulzbach, per a press release.

The study has been published in Stem Cell Reports.

The first time safety and feasibility was assessed

The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) dysfunction causes blindness, affecting 200 million people worldwide. It is the layer of pigmented cells in the retina that is essential for us to sustain our vision.

In order to restore the population of cells and cure the dysfunction, researchers extracted retinal stem cells from donated cadaver adult eyes. They were then grown into RPE cells and transplanted into the eyes of monkeys. 

It was seen that RPE patches transplanted into the monkey's eye and integrated for at least three months without side effects such as immune attack or light sensitivity. 

Moreover, the stem cell-derived RPE partially took over the function of the monkey's original RPE. It was able to support the endogenous photoreceptor, which helps mostly with light and water absorption.


Perhaps most importantly, the cells did not cause any retinal scarring. 

Timothy Blenkinsop, Ph.D., co-lead investigator of the study stated, "We have demonstrated human cadaver donor-derived RPE at least partially replaces function in the macula of a non-human primate. Human cadaver donor-derived cells can be safely transplanted underneath the retina and replace host function, and therefore may be a promising source for rescuing vision in patients with retina diseases."

And further added, "The results of this study suggest human adult donor RPE is safe to transplant, strengthening the argument for human clinical trials for treating retina disease."

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