Blood Stem Cells Restore Vision in Blind Mice

Bone marrow stem cells have been used to repair damaged retinas in mice and may suggest a possible stem cell treatment for macular degeneration.

Researchers at the University of Florida have shown that blood stem cells taken from bone marrow can be programmed to restore retinal cells and other tissues.  This successful stem cell treatment may also lead to treatments for other diseases such as cardiovascular disorders.

According to Maria B. Grant of the University of Florida’s College of Medicine, “This is the first report using targeted gene manipulation to specifically program an adult stem cell to become a new cell type.”  According to Grant, these stem cells can also be programmed with drugs, instead of giving drugs to patients.

In a journal paper to be published in the journal Molecular Therapy, researchers demonstrated how cultured adult stem cells could be transformed into retinal cells.  Only after the stem cells were reintroduced into the mice did they completely transform into retinal cells, taking cues from the damaged retinas.

Using stem cell treatments such as this may lead to a stem cell treatment of macular degeneration.  During the research, scientists chose to build retinal pigment epithelial cells which are shown to be faulty in many eye diseases such as macular degeneration.

Removing stem cells from the bone marrow of the mice, scientists modified the cell cultures and injected them back into the animals.  These stem cells were able to become retinal cells and home in on the damage in the eye.  After 28 days, these mice which originally had no retinal function showed normal responses to light.

Such technological advances of stem cell treatment may result in more permanent treatment for eye disease such as macular degeneration.