Johns Hopkins researchers reported what may be a major breakthrough in vision-saving medicine, creating a functioning "mini retina" made out of human stem cells.
The petri-dish retina has the "architectural organization" of a human retina and can even sense light thanks to working photoreceptors, researchers said. The lab is still far from producing a parallel to the full eye-brain system of vision, but "this is a good start," lead researcher M. Valeria Canto-Soler told MedicalXpress.com.
The breakthrough could "ultimately lead to technologies that restore vision in people with retinal diseases," Canto-Soler said.
"This success brings us one step closer to the anticipated use of [human induced pluripotent stem cells] for disease modeling and open possibilities for future therapies," the authors wrote in a study published this week in the journal Nature.
The researchers reprogrammed ordinary cells back to an embryonic-like state and then directed their growth to form retina cells. The results were better than expected, with the retina cells growing similarly to the way they do in a growing human fetus.
"We knew that a 3-D cellular structure was necessary if we wanted to reproduce functional characteristics of the retina," Canto-Soler added. "But when we began this work, we didn’t think stem cells would be able to build up a retina almost on their own. In our system, somehow the cells knew what to do."