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Stem cells as a therapeutic tool for the blind: biology and future prospects

Singh, Mandeep S., MacLaren, Robert E.
Proceedings 2011 v.278 no.1721 pp. 3009-3016
adults, blindness, embryonic stem cells, patients, photoreceptors, prostheses, retina, therapeutics, vision
Retinal degeneration due to genetic, diabetic and age-related disease is the most common cause of blindness in the developed world. Blindness occurs through the loss of the light-sensing photoreceptors; to restore vision, it would be necessary to introduce alternative photosensitive components into the eye. The recent development of an electronic prosthesis placed beneath the severely diseased retina has shown that subretinal stimulation may restore some visual function in blind patients. This proves that residual retinal circuits can be reawakened after photoreceptor loss and defines a goal for stem-cell-based therapy to replace photoreceptors. Advances in reprogramming adult cells have shown how it may be possible to generate autologous stem cells for transplantation without the need for an embryo donor. The recent success in culturing a whole optic cup in vitro has shown how large numbers of photoreceptors might be generated from embryonic stem cells. Taken together, these threads of discovery provide the basis for optimism for the development of a stem-cell-based strategy for the treatment of retinal blindness.