Retinal transplant boost opens door to treat eyesight loss

December 01, 2020

Dying retinal cells send out a rescue signal to recruit stem cells and repair eye damage, according to the findings of a new study published today in the journal Molecular Therapy. The findings open the door to restoring eyesight by modifying stem cells to follow the signal and transplanting them into the eye.

Martina Pesaresi, PhD, together with a group led by Pia Cosma at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) identified two cell signals - known as Ccr5 and Cxcr6 - using different models of retinal degeneration in humans and mice.

They then genetically engineered the stem cells with an overabundance of Ccr5 and Cxcr6 cell receptors. When these modified stem cells were transplanted back into the models, they displayed a significantly higher rate of migration to degenerating retinal tissue, rescuing them from death and preserving their function.

"One of the main hurdles in using stem cells to treat damaged eyesight is low cell migration and integration in the retina," says Pia Cosma, ICREA Research Professor and Group Leader at the CRG and senior author of the study. "After the cells are transplanted they need to reach the retina and integrate through its layers. Here we have found a way to enhance this process using stem cells commonly found in the bone marrow, but in principle can be used with any transplanted cells."

Retinal damage, which is currently incurable, inevitably leads to visual disabilities and in most cases blindness. With a growing and ageing population, the number of people affected by retinal damage is estimated to increase dramatically over the next few decades.

Stem cell therapies have been touted as one way of treating degenerative retinal conditions. Stem cells can be transplanted into the eye, releasing therapeutic molecules with neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties that promote the survival, proliferation and self-repair of retinal cells. The stem cells can also generate new retinal cells, replacing lost or damaged ones.

The researchers used mesenchymal stem cells, which are found in bone marrow and can differentiate into lots of types of cells, including retinal cells that respond to light. Mesenchymal stem cells can also be easily grown outside an organism, providing abundant starting material for transplantation compared to other cell sources such as hematopoietic stem cells.

In this study the mesenchymal stem cells were modified using lentiviruses, but the authors believe that using other methods such as the adeno-associated virus vector (AAV) can express the chemokine receptors in the transplanted cells.

"AAV is really gaining popularity as the ideal therapeutic vector, and Europe and the USA have already given regulatory approval for the commercial use of AAV-based therapies in patients. There is still considerable work to be done, but our findings could make stem cell transplants a feasible and realistic option for treating visual impairment and restoring eyesight," concludes Pia Cosma.

Center for Genomic Regulation

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to