Retina Sections Regenerated and Visual Function Increased Using Skin Stem Cells

Scientists from the Schepens Eye Research Institute, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, are the first to regenerate large areas of damaged retinas and improve visual function using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived from skin. The results of their study, which was published online on April 29, 2011, in PLoS ONE, hold great promise for future treatments and cures for diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, diabetic retinopathy, and other retinal diseases that affect millions worldwide. "We are very excited about these results," says Dr. Budd A. Tucker, the study's first author. "While other researchers have been successful in converting skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells and subsequently into retinal neurons, we believe that this is the first time that this degree of retinal reconstruction and restoration of visual function has been detected," he adds. Dr. Tucker, who is currently an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Iowa, Carver College of Medicine, completed the study at Schepens Eye Research Institute in collaboration with Dr. Michael J. Young, the principle investigator of the study, who heads the Institute's regenerative medicine center. Today, diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration are the leading causes of incurable blindness in the western world. In these diseases, retinal cells, also known as photoreceptors, begin to die and with them the eye's ability to capture light and transmit this information to the brain. Once destroyed, retinal cells, like other cells of the central nervous system have limited capacity for endogenous regeneration. "Stem cell regeneration of this precious tissue is our best hope for treating and someday curing these disorders," says Dr.
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