The notion of transplanting adult stem cells to treat or even cure age-related macular degeneration (AMD) has taken a significant step toward becoming a reality. In a study published March 24, 2011, in Stem Cells, Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) researchers have demonstrated, for the first time, the ability to create retinal cells derived from human-induced pluripotent stem cells that mimic the eye cells that die and cause loss of sight. AMD is a leading cause of visual impairment and blindness in older Americans and worldwide. AMD gradually destroys sharp, central vision needed for seeing objects clearly and for common daily tasks such as reading and driving. AMD progresses with death of retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), a dark color layer of cells which nourishes the visual cells in the retina. While some treatments can help slow its progression, there is no cure. The discovery of human induced pluripotent stem (hiPS) cells has opened a new avenue for the treatment of degenerative diseases, like AMD, by using a patient's own stem cells to generate tissues and cells for transplantation. For transplantation to be viable in AMD, researchers have to first determine how to program the naïve hiPS cells to function and possess the characteristics of the native RPE, the cells that die off and lead to AMD. The research conducted by the Georgetown scientists shows that this critical step in regenerative medicine for AMD has greatly progressed. "This is the first time that hiPS-RPE cells have been produced with the characteristics and functioning of the RPE cells in the eye. That makes these cells promising candidates for retinal regeneration therapies in age-related macular degeneration," says the study's lead author Dr. Nady Golestaneh, assistant professor in GUMC's Department of Biochemistry and Molecular & Cellular Biology.
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