Scientists produce retina structure from blood-derived cells

PHOTO: Scientists produce retina structure from blood-derived cells

US scientists have succeeded in making early retina structures by using stem cells from blood, marking a breakthrough toward treating eye diseases, Science Daily reported Tuesday.

The new findings can help study degenerative retinal disorder such as retinitis pigmentosa, a prominent cause of blindness in children and young adults, according to a statement by the University of Wisconsin- Madison research team.

Last year, the group led by Doctor David Gamm was able to create the most primitive structure of a retina with photoreceptors by using embryonic stem cells and stem cells from human skin. But the structures lacked the organization of a more mature retina.

This time, Gamm's team used induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) derived from blood gathered from donors. Induced pluripotent stem cell refer to a cell which can develop into any fetal or adult cell type but is free from ethnic debate because it does not require human ovum to produce.

Scientists extracted a type of blood cell called a T-lymphocyte, which is related to immunity, and reprogrammed the cells into iPS cells. Then they grew retina-like tissues from the iPS cells.

About 16 per cent of the initial retinal structures developed distinct layers, which is a significant advance, as retina forms layer in normal human development.

The arrangement of layers was similar to what is found in the back of the eye.

Furthermore, the newly created cells possessed the ability to communicate information.

These facts suggest the potential to grow more complex retinal issues in a lab, by merely taking a blood sample from a patient.

"We don't know how far this technology will take us, but the fact that we are able to grow a rudimentary retina structure from a patient's blood cells is encouraging, not only because it confirms our earlier work using human skin cells, but also because blood as a starting source is convenient to obtain," says Dr. David Gamm, the senior author of the study. "This is a solid step forward."

The laboratory-built human retinal tissues can be used in various ways, including in drug-testing to ultimately replacing multiple layers of damaged retinal tissues.

Gamm said he hopes that the results from his team's research can help people suffering from eye diseases in the future.