New research has been revealed whereby scientists have successfully induced support cells in the retina to become stem cells that can make new neurons. This drives the possibility for new treatments to be developed for diseases where retinal neurons are lost.
The researchers hope this study will help develop new treatments for progressive diseases that damage the retina such as glaucoma and macular degeneration.
As cited on mnt, the most common type of glial cell in the eye of mammals is the Müller glial (MG) cell. These cells give structural support and also help keep the chemical environment of retinal neurons stable. MG cells have the capacity to become stem cells, proliferate, and turn into new neurons. However, the researchers explain how recent studies suggest that, in mammals, this ability is only switched on through injury, otherwise it remains dormant.
By inserting genes into adult mouse retinas, they found they could reprogram MG cells to activate Wnt signalling and induce MG proliferation without retinal injury. By inserting and deleting particular genes, they could manipulate signalling upstream and downstream of this pathway to influence effects on MG proliferation.
“In the future we are hoping to manipulate these cells to replenish any lost retinal neurons, either in diseased or physically damaged retinas. Potentially, it’s a therapy to treat many different retinal degenerative diseases.” – Prof. Bo Chen
With glaucoma and macular degeneration being the leading causes of vision loss in adults across the world, this research is another positive step forward in developing much need treatment for these conditions.