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Stem cells may repair retinal cells


Researchers at St Erik Eye Hospital and Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden have successfully transplanted human retinal pigment epithelial cells grown from stem cells into an eye similar to that of a human.

The researchers found a unique way of making mature cells differentiated from embryonic stem cells. When transplanted into the eyes of animals with similarities to humans, the cells protected the eye against experimental macular degeneration.

The majority of central visual acuity and reading vision loss among older, western people is caused by macular degeneration. This is a result of the supporting cells behind the retina – the retinal pigment epithelium cells – slowly dying, causing the retinal cells that support sight – rods and cones – to die too.

A perfect match is required to undergo stem cell treatment in order to avoid the risk of the body rejecting transplanted cells and a subsequent lifetime of taking drugs to prevent that.

The only non-invasive and pain-free way of harvesting stem cells is from naturally shed teeth or those removed for dental purposes. While stem cells can be harvested from adult teeth, the best are those harvested from baby teeth because they will not have deteriorated as a result of age or toxins.

Macular degeneration has two forms – a wet form and a dry form. The wet form can be treated with drugs, but 90 per cent of sufferers have the dry form, which is currently untreatable.

St Erik Eye Hospital Senior Consultant and Karolinska Institutet Adjunct Professor Anders Kvanta, performed the study, published in official International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) journal Stem Cell Reports, with stem cell researchers Outi Hovatta and Fredrik Lanner.

“Our results suggest that stem cell treatment may help patients with the dry, and so far untreatable, form of macular degeneration,” said Kvanta.