An international research team led by Columbia University Medical Center successfully used mouse embryonic stem cells to replace diseased retinal cells and restore sight in a mouse model of retinitis pigmentosa. This strategy could potentially become a new treatment for retinitis pigmentosa, a leading cause of blindness that affects approximately one in 3,000 to 4,000 people, or 1.5 million people worldwide.
“This research is promising because we successfully turned stem cells into retinal cells, and these retinal cells restored vision in a mouse model of retinitis pigmentosa,” said Stephen Tsang, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of ophthalmology, pathology and cell biology, Columbia University Medical Center, and lead author of the paper. “The transplanted cells not only looked like retinal cells, but they functioned like them, too.”
In Dr. Tsang’s study, sight was restored in one-fourth of the mice that received the stem cells. However, complications of benign tumors and retinal detachments were seen in some of the mice, so Dr. Tsang and colleagues will optimize techniques to decrease the incidence of these complications in human embryonic stem cells before testing in human patients can begin.