A recently published study might very well change our perspective on the subject of losing eyesight. A team of scientists from the Buck Institute managed to completely restore eyesight in blind mice with a long-term treatment which involved human stem cell. The results are so promising that stem-cell-based therapies for patients with blindness can soon be developed.
Approximately 90 percent of all information received by our brains is visual, thus the adage ‘a picture is worth thousand words.’ However, patients can sometimes lose their eyesight as a result of a long-term condition or an accident.
Attempts at restoring complete eyesight in patients suffering from blindness have had vague results. However, a new technique involving human stem cells might change all that. A group of researchers from the Bucks Institute, have created a way to completely restore vision in lab mice by using harvested stem cells.
The process of what we call vision starts with a cell called a photoreceptor. These specialized cells reside inside the retina. Their purpose is to absorb light from the environment and to turn it into an electric signal.
This signal is transmitted to the brain, which interprets it. Now, blindness can occur when, for one or more reasons, the photoreceptors cells in the retina stop working and fade away. The aim of this new study is to replace the damaged photoreceptor cells with stem cells.
As we know, stem cells are very popular in medical science, since they can replace any type of cells in our body. This new project aims to take advantage of the stem cells’ capability of mimicking the function of any cell to force them to grow into photoreceptor cells.
To see whether stem cell could replace broken photoreceptors, the team made several experiments on blind lab rodents. According to their statements, the project started off on the wrong foot, as the scientists could not anticipate the immune system’s response.
Dr. Deepak Lamba, the project’s coordinator, said it was previously believed that the eyes and the brain are the only organs to be ‘immune privileged.’ However, the team soon discovered that the stem cells used to cure the mice of blindness were not doing their job on account of the body rejecting them.
The team managed to circumvent this obstacle by suppressing the immune system’s response until the stem cells did their job. The results are amazing – after a long-term treatment involving daily injections, the team managed to restore full eyesight in mice.
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