By growing two types of stem cells in a "3-D culture" and measuring their ability to produce retinal cells, a team lead by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital researchers has found one stem cell type to be better at producing retinal cells. The research not only reveals which stem cell type might be better for treating retinal degeneration, but it also demonstrates a standardized method for quantifying the effectiveness of different stem cells for such therapies. The research was led by Michael Dyer, Ph.D., a member of the St. Jude Department of Developmental Neurobiology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator. The findings were published in the July 2, 2015 edition of the journal Cell Stem Cell. The article is titled “Quantification of Retinogenesis in 3D Cultures Reveals Epigenetic Memory and Higher Efficiency in iPSCs Derived from Rod Photoreceptors.” Stem cells are immature cells that can differentiate into more specialized cells in the body. In early clinical trials, researchers are testing whether stem cells can be differentiated into cells to replace those that are defective and die off in diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, and Stargardt's disease. Such degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss, affecting more than 10 million people in the U.S.--more than cataracts and glaucoma combined. While such clinical trials have shown early promise, there are many scientific questions to be answered. "One important question is whether it makes a difference where the stem cells come from," Dr. Dyer said.
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