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Human stem cells used to create light-sensitive retina

By Tim Sandle     Jul 3, 2014 in Science
Researchers have used a type of human stem cell to create a three-dimensional complement of human retinal tissue in the laboratory. The retina includes functioning photoreceptor cells capable of responding to light.
In essence what has been created from stem cells is a miniature human retina in a dish that not only has all the physical features of the retina but also has the ability to sense light.
Stem cells are biological cells found in all multicellular organisms. The cells can differentiate into diverse specialized cell types and can self-renew to produce more stem cells. In mammals, there are two broad types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells, which are found in various tissues.
Retinal tissue is complex, comprising seven major cell types, including six kinds of neurons, which are all organized into specific cell layers that absorb and process light, "see," and transmit those visual signals to the brain for interpretation. So far, the researchers have created tissue that can detect variations in light. The creation of an eye remains a long-way off. Nonetheless, the developed retina could have important medical uses in the future.
The science team see the new development as the first step in the process of converting the retina into a tissue for "seeing" visual images. The researchers hope that the development advances opportunities for vision-saving research and could ultimately lead to technologies that restore vision in people with retinal diseases. The long-term goal is to enable genetically engineered retinal cell transplants that halt or even reverse a patient's march toward blindness.
The research has been carried out at Johns Hopkins University. The findings have been reported to Nature Communications in a paper titled “Generation of three-dimensional retinal tissue with functional photoreceptors from human iPSCs.”
More about Stem cells, Retina, Light, Eyes, Vision
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