“Primitive” Stem Cells Shown to Regenerate Blood Vessels in the Eye; Johns Hopkins Advance Offers Hope of Ultimately Reversing Diabetic Retinopathy

Scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine say they have successfully turned back the biological hands of time, coaxing adult human cells in the laboratory to revert to a primitive state, and unlocking their potential to replace and repair damage to blood vessels in the retina caused by diabetes. The findings from this experimental study, they say, advance regenerative medicine techniques aimed at reversing the course of diabetic retinopathy and other blinding eye diseases. "Our study results bring us a step closer to using stem cells more widely in regenerative medicine, without the historical problems our field has encountered in getting such cells to differentiate and avoid becoming cancerous," says Elias Zambidis, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Oncology at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and a member of Johns Hopkins' Institute for Cell Engineering. Results of experiments using human cells and mice were published online on March 5, 2020 in Nature Communications. The open-access article is titled “Vascular Progenitors Generated from Tankyrase Inhibitor-Regulated Naïve Diabetic Human iPSC Potentiate Efficient Revascularization of Ischemic Retina.” According to the National Eye Institute, diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness in U.S. adults. By 2050, researchers estimate that some 14.6 million Americans will have the condition, which results in abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina, where light is processed into vision. For the study, the scientists began their experiments with a fibroblast -- a connective tissue cell -- taken from a person with type 1 diabetes. Reprogrammed fibroblasts function as "stem" cells, with the potential to give rise to all tissues in the body, including blood vessels.
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