Can Stem Cells Restore Sight?

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Columba ophthalmologist Stephen Tsang's research with a special type of adult stem cells suggests stem cells transplants may soon be used to prevent vision loss.

Columba ophthalmologist Stephen Tsang's research with a special type of adult stem cells suggests stem cells transplants may soon be used to prevent vision loss.

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  • 1. Can Stem Cells Restore Vision? Stephen Tsang’s research with a special type of adult stem cell suggests stem cells may soon be used to prevent vision loss. Click the arrows below to continue the slideshow. Photo: National Eye Institute
  • 2. Can Stem Cells Restore Vision? Most cases of vision loss in the U.S. are caused by the loss of pigmented cells in thin layer in the retina. Pigmented Cell Layer The pigmented cells (left) keep the eye’s light- sensing cells healthy. When the pigmented cells die, light-sensing cells soon follow. Loss of Pigmented Cell Layer Surface and cross-section views of a healthy human retina (top) and a degenerating retina from a patient (above). Photos: Stephen Tsang.
  • 3. Can Stem Cells Restore Vision? Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common disorder caused by pigmented cell degeneration. In AMD, the loss of pigmented cells in the center of the retina impairs central vision. By 2020, it is estimated that 14 million people over 65 in the U.S. will have AMD. The retina of a patient with AMD (top), and the effect of AMD on central vision (above). Photos: Stephen Tsang and the National Eye Institute.
  • 4. Can Stem Cells Restore Vision? At Columbia University Medical Center, ophthalmologist Stephen Tsang is testing ways to replace lost pigmented cells. Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) created from the patient’s own skin, could potentially provide personalized replacements. “IPS cells would be like rejuvenating the body withA colony of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. baby cells,” Tsang says.Photo: Stephen Tsang
  • 5. Can Stem Cells Restore Vision? Tsang starts with iPS cells derived from a 53-year-old donor. “We use a cocktail of growth factors to push them into making retinal cells.” The new pigmented cells look and act like native cells (left), which have a hexagonal shape in the eye. Pigmented cells derived from human iPS cells (left) are morphologically similar to native retinal pigmented cells(right). Photos: Stephen Tsang
  • 6. Can Stem Cells Restore Vision? Tsang’s latest study shows that iPS-derived retinal cells can restore vision. Tsang transplanted the human cells into the pigmented layer of mice with a type of macular degeneration. Pigmented layer Image: National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health
  • 7. Can Stem Cells Restore Vision? The transplanted cells integrated into the eye’s Transplanted retina pigmented cell layer. cells Measurements of electrical activity from the grafted cells showed they improved retinal function. Transplanted retinal cells five months after transplantation. Photo: Stephen Tsang
  • 8. Can Stem Cells Restore Vision? The eye is the ideal testing ground for iPS therapies, says Tsang. “The eye is a transparent and accessible organ, and that’s a big advantage. “We can put cells into the eye and monitor them every day with routine non-invasive clinical exams.” saysNew optical coherence tomography (OCT) technology makesinvestigation of the human retina fast and painless. Photo: StephenTsang.