Mouse retinas grown in lab

Transplanted cells can function in rodents' eyes

EYE CANDY  Researchers grew primitive retinas (one shown, with proteins  that collect and transmit light signals in green and red) by embedding mouse  embryonic stem cells in a gel. Immature cells from the lab-grown structures can  integrate into adult eyes. 

Anai Gonzalez-Cordero

Retina cells can be grown from mouse stem cells in the laboratory and become working parts of a mouse’s eye, a new study indicates.

Last year, Robin Ali of University College London and colleagues demonstrated that immature retina cells from newborn mice could form rod cells – a type of light-gathering cell – that wire into the retinas of night-blind adult mice (SN: 5/19/12, p. 13). For the technology to help restore sight in people, such as those with macular degeneration, the researchers needed to come up with a ready source of immature retinal cells.

Ali and colleagues report July 21 in Nature Biotechnology that they have devised a way to coax mouse embryonic stem cells to form primitive retinas in a laboratory dish. Most researchers who have tried to grow retinas have failed. The trick, Ali’s team found, was to embed the stem cells in a gel instead of growing the cells on top of the dish. The gel provided cues to mimic normal developmental signals.

The stem cells formed primitive retinas from which the researchers harvested cells to inject into the eyes of adult mice. A small number of those lab-grown cells matured into rods that formed connections with the mice’s optical nerves.

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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