Cells isolated from the eye that many scientists believed were retinal stem cells are, in fact, normal adult cells, investigators at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital have found. If retinal stem cells could be obtained, they might provide the basis for treatments to restore sight to millions of people with blindness caused by retinal degeneration. Stem cells are immature cells capable of producing large numbers of adult cells, such as retinal cells. Researchers believe that stem cells offer the promise of regenerating tissue in organs such as the eye, brain and heart, damaged by trauma or disease.
The new findings suggest that research on cell therapies to restore blindness should not concentrate on these eye cells previously believed to be retinal stem cells. More promising, the scientists said, is research aimed at re-engineering stem cells to develop into the light-sensitive photoreceptor cells that are lost as a result of retinal degeneration. Such studies could lead to implantation of such engineered photoreceptor cells into the eye to restore sight.
Led by Michael Dyer, Ph.D., the researchers published their findings March 30, 2009, in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Dyer is a member of the St. Jude Department of Developmental Neurobiology.
In studies reported in 2000, scientists proposed that the layer of ciliary epithelial cells lining the inside of the eye, contains retinal stem cells because when grown in culture dishes these cells formed tiny spheres of about a thousand cells, said Dyer, the paper's senior author. These spheres, in turn, could be cultured to give rise to more spheres, reminiscent of the self-renewing capability of stem cells. Also, the cultured sphere cells showed activation of genes characteristic of adult eye cells.
"The first clue that these cells were not stem cells was that they were pigmented," Dyer said. "Neural stem cells, in gener
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St. Jude Children's Research Hospital