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Successful replacement of eye cells hints at future glaucoma treatment

2553516471_2dbf6fbb2f_oFor the first time, a team has successfully transplanted retinal ganglion cells into living animals. The new cells mimicked existing cells in the eye and responded to light.

The work, which was co-led by Jeffrey Goldberg, MD, PhD, professor and chair of ophthalmology at Stanford, is an effort to improve therapies for retinal and optic nerve diseases including glaucoma, which is the leading cause of irreversible blindness. Glaucoma is caused by a variety of conditions, but it leads to the loss of retinal ganglion cells, nerve cells that transmit information from photoreceptors in the eye to the visual centers in the brain.

"These data provide a hint that replacing these cells and restoring these connections is one step closer to possible," Goldberg told me.

The team, including first author Praseeda Venugopalan, PhD, a former graduate student in neuroscience at the University of Miami, injected labeled retinal ganglion cells into 152 adult rats. Although the new cells integrated into only about one of six animals, that success rate was surprisingly high, Goldberg said.

Goldberg said they are not sure why their procedure worked when other attempts have failed. They used fully differentiated retinal ganglion cells, rather than undifferentiated stem cells, which could be an important factor, he said.

In this study, the team implanted the cells in healthy eyes, but they're planning future studies to determine if the procedure is equally successful in eyes already suffering from glaucoma, Goldberg said.

The study appeared recently in Nature Communications. Kenneth Muller, PhD, professor of neuroscience at the University of Miami, is also a senior author.

Previously: Stanford-developed eye implant could work with smartphone to improve glaucoma treatments, What I did this summer: Stanford medical student investigates early detection methods for glaucoma and The retina: One researcher's window into the brain
Photo by Rachel Collins

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