Stem cell therapy and the retina.
MacLaren RE., Pearson RA.
Retinal degeneration culminating in photoreceptor loss is the leading cause of untreatable blindness in the developed world. In this review, we consider how photoreceptors might be replaced by transplantation and how stem cells might be optimised for use as donor cells in future clinical strategies for retinal repair. We discuss the current advances in human and animal models of retinal cell transplantation, focussing on stem cell and reproductive cloning biology, in relation to the practical issues of retinal transplantation surgery. Stem and progenitor cells can be isolated from a number of sources including embryonic tissue, adult brain and even the retina, prompting many researchers to investigate the potential for using these cells to generate photoreceptors for transplantation. Nevertheless, several obstacles need to be overcome before these techniques can be applied in a clinical setting. Embryonic or stem cells have so far shown little ability to differentiate into retinal phenotypes when transplanted into the adult retina. We have recently noted, however, that donor cells harvested much later, at the photoreceptor precursor developmental stage, can be transplanted successfully and restore visual function. The current challenge is to understand the developmental processes that guide embryonic or adult stem cells towards photoreceptor differentiation, so that large numbers of these cells might be transplanted at the optimal stage. Future advances in reproductive cloning technology could lead to the successful generation of stem cells from adult somatic cells, thereby facilitating auto-transplantation of genetically identical cells in patients requiring photoreceptor replacement.