Stem cells make 'retina in a dish'- Retina made from mouse cells in Japan

in medicine, biology

A complex biological tissue, retina, was created in a laboratory dish by scientists in Japan.  This may be the first step towards treatments for human eye diseases, including some forms of blindness.

The research results were published in today's online issue of Nature, a scholarly publication.  According to a Nature write up: "There's nothing like it," says Robin Ali, a human molecular geneticist at the Institute of Ophthalmology in London who was not involved in the study. "When I received the manuscript, I was stunned, I really was. I never though I'd see the day where you have recapitulation of development in a dish."

If the technique can be adapted to human cells and proved safe for transplantation — which will take years — it could offer an unlimited well of tissue to replace damaged retinas. More immediately, the synthetic retinal tissue could help scientists in the study of eye disease and in identifying therapies.

The work may also guide the assembly of other organs and tissues, says Bruce Conklin, a stem-cell biologist at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco, who was not involved in the work. "I think it really reveals a larger discovery that's coming upon all of us: that these cells have instructions that allow them to self-organize."

In hindsight, previous work had suggested that, given the right cues, stem cells could form eye tissue spontaneously, Ali says. A cocktail of genes is enough to induce frog embryos to form form eyes on other parts of their body, and human embryonic stem cells in a Petri dish can be coaxed into making the pigmented cells that support the retina, sheets of cells that resemble lenses and light-sensing retinal cells themselves3.

However, the eye structure created by Yoshiki Sasai at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe and his team is much more complex.

The optic cup is brandy-snifter-shaped organ that has two distinct cell layers. The outer layer — that nearest to the brain — is made up of pigmented retinal cells that provide nutrients and support the retina. The inner layer is the retina itself, and contains several types of light-sensitive neuron, ganglion cells that conduct light information to the brain, and supporting glial cells.

To make this organ in a dish, Sasai's team grew mouse embryonic stem cells in a nutrient soup containing proteins that pushed stem cells to transform into retinal cells. The team also added a protein gel to support the cells. "It's a bandage to the tissue. Without that, cells tend to fall apart," Sasai says.

At first, the stem cells formed blobs of early retinal cells. Then, over the next week, the blobs grew and began to form a structure, seen early in eye development, called an optic vesicle. Just as it would in an embryo, the laboratory-made optic vesicle folded in on itself over the next two days to form an optic cup, with its characteristic brandy-snifter shape, double layer and the appropriate cells.

Read more on this story at Nature website.

 

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