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Stem Cell Research Paving the Way to Treat Irreversible Vision Loss

31st January 2017

Irreversible and degenerative eye conditions including macular degeneration and glaucoma have no known cure as of yet, just treatments to delay and halt the progression of further vision loss when diagnosed early enough. Further to our previous blog detailing the development of cell reprogramming to treat degenerative eye conditions, pioneering new stem cell research is now emerging which is now providing hope for new treatments that have the potential to restore and renew vision that was once lost.

Still in its infancy, research is well underway that is investigating the use of stem cell secretions in the form of exosome-based therapy to treat Glaucoma. Current treatments currently available include laser surgery and medication to reduce further damage to the optic nerve.

As cited on, “according to a new study, stem cell research has shown promise for treatment. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) have been shown to have protective effects on retinal ganglion cells. The loss of these latter cells and their axons is one of the leading causes of degenerative eye diseases such as glaucoma. A new rodent study performed by researchers at the National Eye Institute (NEI) – a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – points to a potential new avenue for treatment, using only stem cell exosomes.

Using exosomes isolated from stem cells has some advantages over using entire stem cells. Exosomes can be purified, stored, and precisely dosed in ways that stem cells cannot. Furthermore, cell-free exosome therapy does not include the risks commonly associated with stem cell transplantation; the body’s immune system cannot reject them and there is no risk of unwanted cell growth.

However, Stanislav Tomarev, PhD – a principal investigator at the NEI and the study’s co-author – also acknowledges that further research is needed in order to fully understand the exosomes’ specific contents.”

In the treatment of macular degeneration, cell replacement technology is showing real promise in its early stages of research and may one day be able to restore sight to the blind. As cited on medicalnewstoday.comresearchers transplanted stem cell-derived retinal tissues into animals with end-stage retinal degeneration. They found that this tissue could be coerced into forming structured outer nuclear layers that included mature photoreceptors.

The study, led by scientists Masayo Takahashi and Michiko Mandai from the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Japan summarised the results: “We showed the establishment of host-graft synapses in a direct and confirmative way. No one has really shown transplanted stem cell-derived retinal cells responding to light in a straightforward approach as presented in this study, and we collected data to support that the signal is transmitted to host cells that send signals to the brain.”

Further studies are now required to make these findings more applicable to patients, however, this exciting study inches the industry ever closer to the ability to restore lost vision.


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