Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US have coaxed light-sensitive eye cells grown in a laboratory to reconnect after separation, an essential step for transplantation into people for treatment of different eye ailments.
These photoreceptor cells combine with other cells to create the retina, working together. A small amount of tissue situated behind the eye that is accountable for translating light wavelengths into signals that the brain itself interprets as vision.
Researchers wish to develop retinal cells outside the human body and use them to replace dysfunctional or dead cells of the eye.
In 2014, researchers developed organoids (cell clusters self-organized in the laboratory into 3d forms) that resembled the type as well as function associated with a true retina. This was carried out by reprogramming human skin cells to function as stem cells, which were subsequently urged to become a number of kinds of retinal cells.
The same group published research last year showing that lab-grown retinal cells can respond to different wavelengths and intensities of light and reach out to neighboring cells to make connections.
As reported by principal researcher ophthalmologist David Gamm, this latest study is “the last item of the puzzle”.
“We wanted to utilize the cells from these organoids as replacement components for exactly the same kinds of cells that had been lost during retinal diseases,” Gamm said.
But, following weeks of development in a lab dish as compact clusters, the question remained: will the cells behave appropriately after we tease them apart? ” Because that’s critical to introducing them right into a patient’s eye.”
This functionality depends on the capability of cells to connect with one another through extensions known as axons, with a chemical signal box known as a synapse forming a junction.
Observing axons stretching in and out of cells is one thing. To be sure the connections were made, the team pulled clusters of retinal cells apart and watched them reconnect.
A rabies virus was then added, which was seen migrating over the course of a week in between the retinal cells, suggesting that synaptic connections had indeed been made.
“We’ve been quilting this story together in the lab, piece by piece, to build trust that we are heading in the right direction,” says Gamm, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“It will be all leading to human clinical trials, that are the clear next step, that is all leading to.
Further analysis showed that the cell types most frequently developing synapses were the photoreceptors, commonly distinguished as rods and cones. This’s encouraging since these cell types are lost in diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa as well as age-related macular degeneration.
Also, there is proof of cell types called retinal ganglion cells forming synapses. Replacing these cells in the eye may very well be useful in treating glaucoma or other eye problems, where the optic nerve is damaged as well as the brain itself is not able to communicate with the eye.
Gamm states, “That was a crucial revelation for us. “It really demonstrates the potentially broad influence these retinal organoids might have.”
The research has been published in PNAS.