Stem-Cell-Derived Cone Cells Growing to Confluence Form Organized Retinal Tissue 150 Microns Thick; Never Achieved Before; Might Enable Transplants to Treat Age-Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD)

Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) could be treated by transplanting photoreceptors produced by the directed differentiation of stem cells, thanks to findings published online on October 6, 2015 in the journal Development by Professor Gilbert Bernier of the University of Montreal and its affiliated Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, together with colleagues. The article is titled “Differentiation of Human Embryonic Stem Cells into Cone Photoreceptors through Simultaneous Inhibition of BMP, TGFβ, and Wnt Signaling.” Dr. Bernier is Director of the Stem Cell and Developmental Biology Laboratory at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital and a Professor with the Department of Neuroscience and the Department of Opthalmology at the University of Montreal. ARMD is a common eye problem caused by the loss of cone cells. Dr. Bernier's team has developed a highly effective in vitro technique for producing light-sensitive retina cells from human embryonic stem cells. "Our method has the capacity to differentiate 80% of the stem cells into pure cones," Dr. Gilbert explained. "Within 45 days, the cones that we allowed to grow towards confluence spontaneously formed organized retinal tissue that was 150 microns thick. This has never been achieved before." In order to verify the technique, Dr. Bernier injected clusters of retinal cells into the eyes of healthy mice. The transplanted photoreceptors migrated naturally within the retina of their host. "Cone transplant represents a therapeutic solution for retinal pathologies caused by the degeneration of photoreceptor cells," Dr. Bernier explained.
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