Researchers have made early retina structures containing proliferating neuroretinal progenitor cells using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells derived from human blood.
Additionally, the retina structures showed the capacity to form layers of cells (as the retina does in normal human development) possessing the machinery to allow them to communicate information. Together these findings suggest it's possible to assemble human retinal cells into more complex retinal tissues starting from a routine patient blood sample.
"We don't know how far this technology will take us, but the fact that we are able to grow a rudimentary retina structure from a patient's blood cells is encouraging, not only because it confirms our earlier work using human skin cells, but also because blood as a starting source is convenient to obtain," said Dr. David Gamm, pediatric ophthalmologist and assistant professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.
The iPS cells used in the study were generated through collaboration with Cellular Dynamics International of Madison, Wisconsin, which pioneered the technique to convert blood cells into iPS cells. CDI scientists extracted a type of blood cell called a T-lymphocyte from the donor sample, and reprogrammed the cells into iPS cells. Cellular Dynamics International was founded by UW-Madison stem cell pioneer Dr. James Thomson.
Many applications of laboratory-built human retinal tissues can be envisioned, including using them to test drugs and study degenerative diseases of the retina such as retinitis pigmentosa, a prominent cause of blindness in children and young adults. One day, it may also be possible replace multiple layers of the retina in order to help patients with more widespread retinal damage.
Adapted from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health announcement.